AFRICA TOBACCO HARM REDUCTION FORUM HELD IN NAIROBI
The second edition of Africa Tobacco Harm Reduction forum was held online on 14 February 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya. Convened by Campaign for Safer Alternatives in collaboration with Africa harm reduction alliance., the forum is aimed at providing a platform to engage, challenge and exchange ideas, where pivotal issues on ending smoking in Africa are discussed and where delegates can learn from the experience, opinions and perspectives of sector leaders and their peers. The forum was an engagement and communication platform to discuss and advocate for evidence-based regulation as opposed to a ban of alternative reduced risk products.
The concept of tobacco harm reduction refers to policies, programs and practices aiming at minimizing health, social and legal impacts associated with use of tobacco products. There is fierce opposition between those advocating for the use of less harmful product as a pragmatic and realistic approach and those who think prevention and cessation are the only solution to stop the use of harmful products.
The conference, which was attended by over 50 delegates from across Africa and international and Kenyan medical experts, heard that the current approach of governments in Africa is not working. Despite the fact that nine out of ten smokers think nicotine pouches or vapes/e-cigarettes are the most effective quitting tool, countries in Africa continue to have regulatory environment that is unsupportive of these products.
Tobacco harm reduction is known as a public health strategy to reduce health risks and diseases related to tobacco. Its principle relies on the fact that a large number of smokers who want to quit fail to succeed. Thereby, alternatives have emerged these lasts years, notably innovative ones such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco. Tobacco harm reduction is viewed by those who advocate for it, as a pragmatic approach to reducing the harm of smoking related disease and thus, saving millions of lives.
"Instead of adopting a dogmatic, unscientific stance against tobacco harm reduction, Africa should be embracing it as an exciting opportunity to save thousands of lives lost to cigarettes" remarked Dr. Kgosi Letlape. "We have got to get out of the colonial mindset, and just following the mandates of Western authorities" he added.
The COVID-19 Pandemic illustrated the importance of trusting science, accepting evidence and listening to experts. The science is clear, tobacco harm reduction saves lives and Africa’s current anti-harm reduction policies will cost lives. Instead of adopting a dogmatic, unscientific stance against tobacco harm reduction, policymakers in Africa should be embracing it as an exciting opportunity to save thousands of lives lost to cigarettes" said Dr. Human, a renowned physician and harm reduction enthusiast.
We need to take an approach that places risk reduction at its heart and move away from an all or nothing absolutist perspective. Otherwise, we will continue to see thousands of smokers persisting in a habit that will ultimately lead to their death.