Harm reduction does not endorse tobacco use, but recognises the reality of nicotine addiction. Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, harm reduction seeks to minimise the harm caused by tobacco use
The Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG-3) seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all and can serve as an overarching theme for tobacco harm reduction, too. While health got due attention at the G20 deliberations, tobacco-related diseases did not.
It’s important to clarify that harm reduction does not endorse tobacco use but recognises the reality of nicotine addiction. Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, harm reduction seeks to minimise the harm caused by tobacco use.
Numerous developed nations have already implemented innovative, science-based harm reduction approaches. For example, countries like the United Kingdom and Japan have successfully implemented harm reduction measures, including endorsing alternative products like heat-not-burn devices. These approaches have led to a significant reduction in smoking rates and, consequently, a decline in smoking-related diseases.
Smoking is a global epidemic, affecting over one billion people and claiming millions of lives annually. Despite substantial efforts to control tobacco use and promote smoking cessation, addiction remains a severe global public health threat. The burden of smoking-related diseases on individuals, families, and healthcare systems is immeasurable, encompassing cardiovascular diseases, cancers and respiratory illnesses.
India has one of the highest numbers of tobacco users globally, and the burden of tobacco-related diseases is substantial with nearly 900,000 annual deaths attributed to tobacco use, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. India has a 300-million-strong user-base of tobacco products in India.
Since smoking-related illnesses continue to significantly impact holistic health and development in India and other developing nations, it calls for immediate and sustainable intervention. So, let us commit ourselves to prioritise tobacco harm reduction, in alignment with SDG-3. By doing so, we can create a healthier, smoke-free future for India and contribute to global efforts to reduce the devastating impact of smoking on public health. It is time to revitalise efforts and work collectively to evoke change with coherent planning and strategic steps in the public health domain.
The nation urgently requires a science-based, cost-effective approach that is accessible to all. By taking decisive action and implementing science-based harm reduction strategies, we can improve the holistic health and development of our nation.
To begin with, India can prioritise successful tobacco harm reduction strategies being employed globally. Secondly, India should advocate for similar harm reduction approaches on the international stage. Thirdly, collaborating with other developing countries facing similar challenges can help create a united front to push for evidence-based policies that promote harm reduction. By sharing our experiences and successes, we can inspire positive change on a global scale.
While the G20 may have missed the opportunity to focus on the smoking-related health burden, it is desirable that the issue be moved up the agenda at other international forums. Such discussions should involve all stakeholders, including heads of states, the WHO, and relevant authorities, to establish a unified worldwide approach to combat smoking-related challenges.
-- Dr Jatinder Kumar is a senior neurosurgeon, and former group medical director, Paras Hospitals.