Encourage smokers to shift to reduced-harm products

Originally Published 25th August 2015 – A letter from Derek Yach


Over the past decade, new reduced-risk nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes have appeared. Millions of smokers have used them to replace regular cigarettes, reducing their risk of premature death. However, this trend is being stifled by those who fear that new products are as bad as cigarettes.

I understand this fear. For decades I led tobacco control efforts in my native South Africa and globally at the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 1998, I invited tobacco companies to present progress on “reduced-risk nicotine products”; it was unimpressive. But today’s portfolio of products has real potential to remove the harmful components of tobacco (tar) while providing the full smoking experience.
The science is maturing. A report commissioned by Public Health England confirms that ecigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful to health than normal cigarettes and nicotine is no worse than caffeine. It is time for other public health groups and WHO to recommend that smokers who seek to quit use ecigarettes.

There has recently been an 1,800 per cent increase in ecigarette mentions in US media; they eclipse tobacco and traditional cigarettes in stories about smoking and its effects! However, most articles focus on scary stories: exploding ecigarettes or kids overdosing on nicotine fluid. Distorted media coverage has led many recovering smokers back to tobacco.

We need a smarter regulatory path to encourage smokers to shift to reduced-harm products while it tightens regulatory actions aimed at cigarettes. Recently, leading health economists — Frank Chaloupka, David Sweanor and Kenneth Warner — called for tobacco excise taxes to be set proportionate to the harm the product causes. Over the past 20 years, they placed excise tax and pricing at the core of WHO, World Bank and government actions to curb tobacco use. Having worked with them, I know their voice is taken seriously by finance ministers worldwide.
A gap is needed between the prices of regular versus reduced-risk products, beginning with an increase in tax on the former and low taxes on reduced risk-products until they command 75 per cent of total nicotine product sales (taxes on regular products should be raised as their use declines to maintain government revenues).

Almost 500,000 Americans die from smoking every year. We need to act faster to adopt regulations accelerating the transition away from cigarettes — and for the first time, we have safe and effective products to help. Ecigarettes have to be part of the solution.

Derek Yach
Chief Health Officer,
The Vitality Group,
New York, NY, US

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