With about eight million people dying annually due to smoking-related illnesses and outright quitting being difficult for most smokers, experts have warned that Africa and the global community cannot afford to pay lip service to tobacco harm reduction.
Experts from various fields spoke at an exchange programme with the theme “Harm Reduction: Making a Difference in Africa.”
Speaking on the need to prioritise harm reduction, a cross-section of the discussants noted that research suggests that harm reduction is a veritable tool to lower deaths
As part of measures to mitigate the negative consequences of combustible tobacco products, some health professionals and other critical stakeholders, including tobacco companies, have been championing harm reduction with alternative tobacco products.
The use of vaping, heated tobacco, oral nicotine and smokeless tobacco, which due to their smokeless nature, drastically reduce risks associated with tobacco smoke, are gaining traction, with reports indicating that as of 2021, there are 82 million vapers worldwide.
However, using alternative products has faced stiff opposition from stakeholders, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has continued to insist on total cessation.
Joseph Magero, Chairman of Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA), stated that the high death toll associated with smoking cigarettes makes alternative products accessible and affordable and remains the most viable option when he spoke on tobacco harm reduction practices, progress and challenges in Africa.
Magero wondered why policymakers and some activists were against using nicotine products, stressing that Africa could not afford to lag in using alternative tobacco products.
“We have a responsibility to make smokers aware of the alternative products available so they can conveniently make informed decisions,” Magero stated.
Dr Kgosi Letlape urged African countries not to heed the WHO’s advice to ban tobacco products. “WHO is failing Africa when it comes to tobacco,” Dr Letlape said.
Dr Letlape also mentioned that low and middle-income countries must demand quality scientific advice rather than rely on an idiotic policy banning the products.
A cross-section of participants decried the prevalence of misinformation about tobacco harm reduction, especially those fueled by public authorities, Dr Letlape said, noting that such pose a serious threat.
Delivering a thought-provoking lecture on disinformation and misinformation with particular reference to how it affects harm reduction, Dr Tendai Mhizha urged the scientific community to put information in a digestible and accessible format so people can use it to empower themselves.
She stressed the need to build responses through awareness, investing in studies and policy effectiveness and adoption of a credible fact-checking ecosystem as part of measures to mitigate disinformation.
This article first appeared on https://leadership.ng/smoking-africa-must-prioritise-harm-reduction-experts/, 7 months ago.