Over half a billion smokers live in Asia, and Asian countries have some of the highest per capita smoking rates – and some of the highest numbers of smoking-related deaths – in the world.
Given the staggering damage to its citizens’ health that smoking is responsible for you’d think that regional governments would be eagerly embracing any less harmful alternatives such as vapes and heat-not-burn (HNB) devices to encourage people to wean themselves off conventional tobacco products.
Last week was hot in Seoul. Not just with the outdoor temperatures exceeding 30oC, but also with clear voices of over 100 experts from 18 countries gathered at the 3rd Asia Harm Reduction Forum (AHRF), calling to use the opportunity we have to save 20,000 people dying each day from smoking.
Put yourselves in the shoes of a parent (if you're not already one). You read in the papers about a teenage vaping epidemic. There's a good chance you're one of the many people in the UK who think vaping is just as bad as smoking, and you've already been told that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking cigarettes.
As I see it, currently the Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) and e-cigarette policy scene continues to evolve in a direction that will result in substantially more tobacco-related addiction, illness and death, than what would likely occur with the skilled addition of a THR component to tobacco control programming. A THR component could highlight e-cigarettes and related vapor devices as harm reduction modalities, recognizing the evidence to date as to their efficacy for smoking cessation and for diversion of teens away from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.
Keeping up to date with the proceedings of the World Conference on Tobacco or Health, in Cape Town recently, I was reminded of the wonderful film, directed by Richard Attenborough - ‘Oh what a Lovely War!’ - which summarises and comments on the events of the First World War using popular songs of the time, many of which were parodies of older popular songs, and using allegorical settings such as Brighton's West Pier to criticise the manner in which the eventual victory was won.
In the Orwell classic Animal Farm there was a binary notion that the animals lived by – “four legs good, two legs bad”. This eventually morphed into “four legs good, two legs better” as the pigs who became the lead animals began walking on two legs like the evil farmer they had replaced.
Binary thinking has a role in areas like engineering where unless a bridge or building is a certain strength it may fall down. However human biology is not quite as amenable to this approach. Notwithstanding that we are all similar, no two people (even identical twins) are exactly the same.
Significant progress has been made in reducing smoking prevalence within the United Kingdom but the benefits have not fallen fairly across all groups. Smoking rates amongst those with personal incomes under £10,000 per annum is more than double of those with incomes over £40,000. However, there are other groups with rates higher still, for example people experiencing mental ill health have a smoking prevalence rate double the population average. Amongst those who are homeless or rough sleeping we see even higher rates, in many instances services report that all their clients smoke.
We already know the benefits to a smoker when they leave smoking behind; vapers are keen to tell us the benefits they accrue. Empowering smokers to transition to these safer products is a huge source of pride for those of us who work in the independent vape industry.
A myriad of studies, evidence reviews and now, replications of previous flawed research, all reinforce that vaping is far safer compared to smoking. The research by institutions such as the Royal College of Physicians, London, Public Health England, St Andrews University in Scotland, Cancer Research UK and many others continue to inform just how much safer. Long term studies by Professor Riccardo Polosa’s team at the University of Catania in Italy even found that smokers with asthma and COPD can reverse the harms caused by their smoking once they switch to vaping. This is all very good news.
Scientists appeal for conducting India centric research before deciding on any hasty move
India has the second largest cigarette smoking population in the world. Added to which is a large population consuming tobacco in other forms such as the local non-cigarette alternatives including bidi, hukkah and chilam, and tobacco/Areca nut based chewing products. These products have been proven to be major causes of oral, oropharyngeal and lung cancers, as well as other health issues. For an overview of tobacco use in India see here.
In March the GFN team organised a series of three dialogues in the UK to explore ‘How safe is vaping? Media coverage, dilemmas and solutions in work and social spaces’ These, each hosted by local partners, took place in Leicester, Liverpool and Glasgow.
The format was for a panel of leading thinkers and advocates to give short introductions, followed by a discussion involving the audience. Each event was designed to last for about 2 hours.