Harm reduction refers to a set of strategies to minimise the risks associated with their behaviour. However, it does not completely eliminate the risks. Through harm-reduction techniques, one can limit the impact their choices have on themself, others, society at large, and the environment.

If you look at electric vehicles these days, like their petrol-powered predecessors, they transport people from point A to point B but emit significantly fewer emissions. This means that it’s serving the same purpose as a regular car but with minimal risk i.e lesser emissions.

Harm reduction works in the same way with regard to tobacco and is referred to as Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR). Just like emissions from burning fossils have long been a problem faced by the planet, the use of combustible tobacco is also a cause of concern.

There have been several THR strategies in place to reduce the risk of harm associated with the consumption of combustible tobacco products. And while the best option is to quit tobacco use altogether, the journey to complete abstinence can be long, difficult and at times prove impossible.

Over the years, governments all over the world introduced several measures to deal with the health impact of combustible cigarettes. One of them is THR which refers to reducing the risk of harm associated with the behaviour of smoking combustible products. THR acknowledges that eliminating exposure to tobacco altogether would lead to the greatest reduction in harm. However, its users may not always be able to or willing to quit. This is why THR then focuses on minimising the risks associated with the consumption of combustible products.

It is a well-known fact that people smoke to obtain nicotine but the combustion of tobacco is one of the most harmful ways to obtain it. When burned, tobacco releases nicotine along with many other chemicals. These chemicals contain several toxicants which cause harm to one’s body and the environment. THR advocates for a healthy future for consumers by providing them with potentially less harmful alternatives. These potentially reduced-risk alternatives help consumers of combustible tobacco to switch entirely to products that deliver nicotine in a manner that can be 90% less harmful.

According to a brief published by WHO Europe, there is conclusive evidence which says that completely substituting electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems for combustible tobacco cigarettes reduces users’ exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens present in combustible tobacco cigarettes.

But tobacco harm reduction strategies are often met with hostility due to a lack of information and understanding of the concept and strategies involved. It is important to understand that switching to potentially reduced-risk alternatives that come under the THR strategy has greater benefits for adult recalcitrant smokers, society at large and the environment. It’s high time that we look at consumers of combustible tobacco products with compassion and greater understanding.

If you want to learn more about these potentially less risky alternatives, stay tuned for our next article which will focus on how Tobacco Harm Reduction has emerged as a global public health agenda and how different countries have successfully embraced it with extremely encouraging results.


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