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Switching to safer alternatives is also quitting

By Chimwemwe Ngoma

When I learnt about the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day, ‘commit to quit’, my thoughts quickly shifted to those patients suffering from smoking-related illnesses, hospitalized at Kamuzu Central Hospital. One time, I had the privilege of visiting the medical ward at the public hospital and the nurse on duty that day bemoaned that some patients periodically sneak out of the hospital just to get a smoke.

What could the action of such patients tell indirectly? YES, your guess is as good as mine, it could mean that they would rather die than quit.

In an ideal world, ‘abstinence’ and ‘quitting’ approaches to public health would be the most effective. However, in practice, the two tactics have proven to be lacking, some smokers are just unable or unwilling to quit smoking.

The tobacco harm reduction concept dates lower back to at the least 1976 while Professor Michael Russell wrote that “people smoke for nicotine, however, they die from the tar”. Nicotine itself, though addictive but it is not otherwise very harmful.

Basing on the information that pure nicotine carries little health risk, but is the main reason why people smoke, adopting and implementing the tobacco harm reduction concept would be ideal and a more sensible thing to do.

Just like Michael Russell, many other objective researchers and advocates today believe that for smokers who are “unable” or “unwilling” to quit smoking,

it would irrational, brutal and unfair to sentence them to untimely deaths by denying them access to safer means of consuming nicotine.

One landmark innovation that has a potential of helping current smokers quit smoking is an electronic cigarette, it was created in Beijing, China through Hon Lik, a vintage pharmacist, inventor and ex-smoker. He reportedly created the tool after his father, additionally a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer.

Reputable public health institutions like the Public Health England, Royal College Physicians, British Medical Association and many others maintain that electronic cigarettes have the potential to benefit current adult smokers to quit smoking.

Even on their sick beds, some smokers won’t just quit. Therefore, no one should be left behind in accelerating efforts of phasing out high risk tobacco products in the world. Innovators and companies can also play a role by innovating and transitioning their product lines towards lower-risk alternatives to smoking. Switching to safer alternatives is also quitting!

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