With 60% of global smokers and 50% of worldwide tobacco-related deaths, Asia has been for years the ultimate test on the effectiveness of any international Smoking Harm Reduction policy.
According to a recent report by the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction, the situation is all but optimistic.
Asia and smoking: a global challenge
Why is the continent considered the first line in the fight against smoking? The numbers speak for themselves.
Seven hundred and forty-three million smokers. Nations like Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar with a stunning 70% of smokers among the adult population. Approximately 4 million deaths annually from smoking-related diseases. More than 260 million consumers of smokeless tobacco products, including the highly harmful combination of tobacco and betel.
Asia and Tobacco Harm Reduction
With numbers of this magnitude, address the problem should be at the top of the region’s governments’ agendas. However, the issue continues to be largely underestimated.
Yet, as the report pointed out, wider adoption of harm reduction strategies could help resolve the tobacco crisis in Asia, bringing significant public health gains to a region with the highest smoking rate in the world.
The continent faces a deep gap between the need to implement smoking harm reduction policies and a reality in which lack of information, limited access to infrastructure, the absence of effective anti-smoking policies are the pattern.
“In recent decades, as most anti-smoking policies have shifted to developing countries, there have been attempts to rethink tobacco control strategies taking into account the populations they should serve. Unfortunately, most of this effort has been driven by a paternalistic mindset with attempts to implement policies that would have never been suggested in Western nations, not because they are not relevant but because they would not stand the democratic and basic human rights tests” pointed out Samrat Chowdhery, President of the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organizations (INNCO).
“A good example is the demand for vaping bans in developing countries. The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report is a welcome countermeasure to such approaches as it highlights the underlying situation in Asia and the Far East. Above all, it is important because it highlights how Tobacco Harm Reduction can help address these gaps” he added.
The region between disinformation, prohibitions, philanthropic interference.
According to the GSTHR report, there is a worldwide offensive against smoking harm reduction policies with governments and international NGOs ready to prevent the implementation and dissemination of low-risk products.
Among the recommendations of the report: “Legislators must exercise self-determination in their health policies based on scientific evidence“.
What future for THR in Asia?
The report emphasizes facilitating consumer access to properly regulated alternative tobacco products would lead to an improvement in world public health. Furthermore, access to safer alternatives would also help alleviate the burden on health systems by freeing up resources otherwise unavailable.
“The adoption of” quit or die” policies to address the smoking habit has not considered a third way, specifically the use of alternative products to conventional cigarettes such as snus and electronic cigarettes. Yet if combustion is removed from the smoking ritual, it could save millions of people” said Harry Shapiro, an international expert on Smoking Harm Reduction and author of the report.
“The World Health Organization should once again show its leadership in this field and positively influence all those nations that do not have a strong national health system. In particular, by encouraging all these nations to adopt alternative products to traditional smoking. This does not mean cancelling the policies carried out but using all the weapons available to reach a shared goal: getting people to quit smoking ” emphasized the expert.