New Challenges for Governments: Reduced Risk Tobacco Products alternatives and Tobacco Control Policies

by:
Gurhan Coban – External Opinion Leader

The number of smokers has dropped over the last years: the fourth WHO global tobacco trends report, released on November 2021, shows that there are 1.30 billion tobacco users worldwide, while the statistic of 2015 showed 1.32 billion smokers, with an expected, additional, decrease to 1.27 billion people by 2025, predicting a drop of around 50 million tobacco users in a 10 years frame.
Although the numbers seem to be promising, and with cessation strategies already implemented in many countries and with 60 countries working to achieve a 30% tobacco use reduction goal, at the current rate there won’t be a drastic reduction of the worldwide percentage of smokers, at least not in a short time frame.

As a result, many Health National Authorities are interested in alternative products (e.g. smokeless tobacco products) and their role within a wider tobacco policy, rethinking their control policies taking into consideration a “risk reduction” approach, considering alternatives that could help consumers through their quitting process or reducing the risks for their health.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), in 2017, released its latest tobacco plan for England, acknowledging the role of science-backed innovations within the tobacco industry in helping smokers to quit or to switch to less harmful products.
The approach along with others, aimed to help people to quit, however, the regulators pay also attention on the initial motivations to start smoking and eliminate those to maintain well-being of the public health and nationwide health system.
In some countries, like Malaysia, many efforts have been done to promote and support the quitting process, but unfortunately results haven’t been solid, with less than 20% of the Cessation Program participants quitting smoking within the first 6 months.
New Zealand has started an impressive campaign to reduce National Smokers Rate under 5% by 2025 (from 13%), with the plan of banning the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products for anyone born after 2008. This move has been controversial for many, but it is clear the willingness to make a step away from tobacco products in favor of other alternatives such as vaping as a pathway to quit smoking.

NGPs: a New Dawn for Regulatory Authorities

The process looks like not certain nor clear for both industry and regulators. Based on past experience, regulators are much more observant to acknowledge the long term health implications of new tobacco product category.
It is evident that the smokers’ world is rapidly changing, with the advent of new products and technologies that should be thoroughly assessed by regulatory authorities, in order to guarantee less risky legal products to consumers, and avoiding the sprouting of illegal activities that could become a primary source for smokers.
Nowadays, given the resistance of many consumers, conscious of the consequences of their behavior, opening the market and the supporting policies to reduced risk products, seems to be a solution that could help more people through their journey for a healthier life.

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