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Blanket bans on safer nicotine products (SNPs) need to be put to bed

By Morton Manjawira

Beware! There is an air of imperialism ballooned by WHO and various Bloomberg funded NGOs seeking to control public health policy in Low & Middle Income Countries (LMICs). This air reeks of pure idealism, zero need for collaborative decision making and neo-colonialism disguised as philanthropy and goodwill. In recent times, it blew across India, causing a blanket ban on Safer Nicotine Products (SNPs) and risking 1.3 million lives in annual deaths due to tobacco related illnesses. 

Furthermore, if Kenyan advocate, Joseph Magero’s sentiments of prohibitive tax regimes on Safer Nicotine Products (SNPs) in his country are anything to go by, then the imperialistic air is already in Africa. Malawi is yet to be on the receiving end of this air but then, there is a saying in my country that goes ‘moto umapita komwe kwatsala tchire‘, which loosely translates to, ‘fire goes where there is bush remaining’. Nonetheless, when that time comes for Malawi, 

those in charge of policy should remember that harm reduction works. 

In fact, as a country that was ravaged by HIV/AIDs in the late 90s and early 2000s, we have first hand knowledge of harm reduction working. Malawi’s HIV/AIDS prevalence rate rose from 2.6% in 1986 to 30% in 1998. Today, it sits at 10.6% and most of that positive impact is credited to harm reduction. From condoms to use of Antiretroviral drugs that suppress the virus to undetectable levels that cannot be transmitted easily. Meanwhile , a more recent introduction in HIV/AIDS drugs called PrEP also works in the realm of harm reduction.

In addition to that, when that time comes for Malawi, those in charge of policy should also afford tobacco harm reduction the benefit of options HIV/AIDS was afforded. HIV/AIDS advocates were allowed a word in school curriculums and all media platforms. They freely advocated for abstinence, fidelity and use of condoms among other things. It would likewise be interesting to see tobacco harm reduction advocates given the opportunity to freely vouch for abstinence, cessation and harm reduction products intrinsically using all platforms they would deem relevant.

Finally, when that time comes for Malawi, those in charge of policy should make sure the main driver of policy are the needs of tobacco consumers themselves and not any external forces. This, in line with their universal rights to life, health and non-discrimination as it is  also envisaged in chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.

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