The region’s top public health observers, academicians, consumers and policy makers came together for the first time to seek immediate and the most efficient solutions to mitigate the risks of tobacco consumption. The call was made during the 1st Harm Reduction Forum in Asia hosted by Public Health Observer Foundation (YPKP) last Nov. 9 in Jakarta.
Participants to the Asia Harm Reduction Forum (AHRF), who came from various countries such as Australia, Philippines, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Greece, gathered to find solutions to reduce harm caused by tobacco through alternative products that significantly reduce health risks.
The concept of harm reduction is a public health science strategy aimed at reducing the negative health consequences of a product or a behavior. In relation to tobacco products, harm reduction effort refers to the development of alternative tobacco products that can reduce the negative effects of cigarette smoking through innovations, including e-cigarettes or vape, nicotine patch, snus (smokeless tobacco in powder form) and heat-not-burn tobacco products.
The key messages that emerged during the forum include encouraging Asian governments to continue conducting relevant researches on alternative tobacco products and increased sensitivity to public interest in reducing the risk of cigarette consumption.
Also discussed were efforts at finding alternative solutions to health problems caused by cigarettes given that more than half of the world’s cigarette consumers are in Asia.
Consumer groups also contributed to the harm reduction strategy talks and stated that alternative tobacco products such as e-cigarettes should be regulated by the government to ensure there are safety measures for their production and distribution.
They also emphasized that governments should not ban alternative tobacco products without logical basis and should instead should consider studying the UK model that promotes the use of electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products and where smoking prevalence has been declining at a record speed. In the UK, 2.2 million smokers have quit smoking within five years.
In the forum, Tom Pinlac , president of Vapers Philippines, praised the Philippine government for not including vaping in Executive Order 26 which restricted smoking in enclosed public places nationwide. He, however, denounced the Department of Health for using false information and fear-mongering in its recommendation to ban e-cigarettes and vaping in the country.
Pinlac cautioned the DOH to look at all the available data that support the use of alternative tobacco products as harm reduction measures that would benefit the 20 million smokers in the country.
Pinlac was one of the panelists in the session “The Search for Less Harmful Alternatives -Consumers’ Perspective” where he told the delegates that the vaping community and industry in the Philippines is self-regulating and asked the Philippine government to regulate vaping.
He also underscored the need for local studies to help prove their stand that vaping is a less harmful alternative to tobacco smoking.
Dimas Jeremia of Ministry of Vape Indonesia (MOVI) added that more and more cigarette consumers are aware of the harmful effects of tar, contributing to the growing shift to alternative tobacco products that have significantly lower risks. The trend of alternative tobacco products consumption such as e-cigarettes or vape in Asia is increasing as reflected in the growing number of vape communities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and other countries across Asia.
Prof. Achmad Syawqui Yazid, the chief of YPKP, in his opening remarks said it is not easy to overcome smokers’ addiction. Therefore, a strategic solution is needed to minimize the harm cause by smoking cigarettes. One of the most efficient solutions is by introducing alternative tobacco products with lower health risks.
He said consumer associations across Asia affirm the positive trend of e-cigarette consumption in their respected country. This trend, however, can be accelerated.
He also stressed that Asian governments need to create policies and regulations that will encourage smokers to switch to less harmful nicotine products. Regulators need to catch up with technological developments, as the potential health benefit is huge and they need to understand the science behind those technologies, he said.
Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, a world-renowned cardiologist from Greece, meanwhile, talked about alternative tobacco products that can potentially save millions of lives. He revealed that they have conducted researches on cytotoxic effects of e-cigarettes vapor on brain cells and the direct consumption effects on the human’s heart functions and coronary circulation, and it was shown that the effects caused by e-cigarettes vapor are much lower than smoke from burning tobacco.
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