It is shocking to note that tobacco harm reduction is not on COP10 agenda
he tenth session of the Conference of Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, along with the third session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, will be held in Panama next month. The tenth session of COP will be held from November 15 to 20 while the MOP3 will be held from November 27 to 30.
Both the meetings are critical to how the parties move forward with their agenda for a smoke-free world. With 182 parties to the convention, the FCTC is one of the “most widely embraced” UN treaties.
On the other hand, MOP3, according to the WHO, “builds upon and complements Article 15 of the WHO FCTC, which addresses means of countering illicit trade in tobacco products, a key aspect of a comprehensive tobacco control policy.”
The world has come a long way from the days of accepting tobacco as part of everyday life to planning to completely end its use. Sadly, the high hopes regarding any significant outcomes vis-à-vis ending combustible smoking have already been dashed.
Tobacco harm reduction as a strategy to reduce the harm caused by tobacco use will be absent from the agenda of COP10. This will have a far reaching impact on the future of safer nicotine products.
THR has been defined as “a range of pragmatic policies, regulations and actions which either reduce health risks by providing safer forms of products or substances or encourage less risky behaviours.”
THR can make a life-saving difference for adult smokers —a choice to switch to safer alternatives and eventually quit smoking completely. Despite all the successes on the smoking prevalence front, reality remains grim. In 2023, there are still 1.1 billion smokers globally. Smoking causing 8.8 million deaths annually. 80 percent of the smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.
The WHO says MPOWER is helping 5.3 billion people from the harms of smoking, in LMICs bureaucratic hurdles, political processes, lack of effective tobacco control legislation along with lack of resources remain the main hurdles in achieving a smoke-free future.
Independent scientific evidence has shown some nicotine products to be much safer than combustible and oral tobacco products. The campaign against safer nicotine products only ensures that the adult smokers continue with their combustible smoking, with no chance of lowering risks to their health.
Independent scientific evidence has shown some nicotine products to be much safer than combustible and oral tobacco products. The campaign against safer nicotine products only ensures that the adult smokers continue with their combustible smoking, with no chance of lowering risks to their health. This clearly goes against the interest of public health.
A case in point is the use of snus and its role in making Sweden an EU country with lowest level of smoking among men. Snus or oral tobacco has traditionally been used for centuries. In the 20th Century, the manufacturing of snus became safe and in 1996 its use in Sweden “overtook smoking among men.”
According to the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR), “Sweden… has the lowest level of smoking among men in the EU — 5 percent against the EU average of 24 percent. Sweden also has the lowest death rate per 100,000 attributable to tobacco in men aged 30 or older.”
On the other hand, tobacco control is frozen in time in Pakistan. The number of tobacco users has risen past 31 million. While advertisements have been banned, smoking remains a major health issue.
If the potential of tobacco harm reduction is ignored, combustible smoking will persist and pervade. Unfortunately, in the run-up to the COP10 safer nicotine products have been presented as a “threat to tobacco control rather than potential tools to support a switch from smoking and reduce high-risk tobacco use.”
The WHO and the participants of the COP10 need to review and understand the “complementary role” of the THR in tobacco control. This can happen, according to GSTHR, “if the international tobacco control community, led by the WHO, can disaggregate combustible from of non-combustible tobacco products in its policy and legislative deliberations.”
This will only happen if the WHO and the rest of the tobacco control players are open to engagement with the stakeholders and affected communities and encourage smokers to switch to safer nicotine products.
The writer is a human rights activist based in Islamabad