The need to support behavior change in smokers

Without a shadow of a doubt, quitting smoking entirely is in the best possible interest of smokers and should be the priority of all smokers if they want to live a risk-free life.

This is where all the efforts and interventions of tobacco control activists and policy-makers are also directed towards. However, statistics show that there has not been as significant of a decline in the number of smokers through current policies as is the need of time. Part of the reason is the lack of actually understanding why smokers do not quit easily and leaving those smokers behind who do not quit.

In a time when our society is facing multiple health and environmental threats, we have seen how modifying those factors and the actions that trigger these threats can help us overcome them and reduce the harm they may cause us. Instead of banning vehicles, electric-powered cars are being promoted. Instead of shutting down industries, they are being encouraged to switch to clean energy resources. Similarly, in the case of tobacco control, while smokers should be encouraged to quit cigarettes altogether, there will always be a segment of smokers who would still continue to smoke. According to a survey, up to two-thirds of cancer patients continue to smoke even after their diagnosis and/or treatment. Such adult smokers deserve to be supported in this behavior change and provided with the option to switch to less harmful alternatives.

Studies have shown that it is the burning of tobacco and the production of smoke in a cigarette that causes the majority of smoking-related diseases. Around 6000 toxic chemicals are present in cigarette smoke that lead to heart diseases, lung diseases, and different cancers in smokers. Noting this, after years of tests and researches, there are now products available that are smoke-free and scientifically substantiated to be less harmful than cigarettes for adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke. Some of these alternatives include e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products, and nicotine gums and pouches. These products, although not completely risk-free, are proven to reduce risks in adult smokers who move away from cigarettes to these alternatives.

The idea behind these smoke-free alternatives is rooted in the principle of tobacco harm reduction which is a public health strategy that aims to work on reducing the harm associated with tobacco in situations where absolute cessation is not achievable. The overarching goal is to inspire and drive the realistic behavior change that is needed for smokers to take action for their health and support them in making efforts for reducing risks to their health. This is, however, only possible if policy-makers and regulators take collective action to consider and evaluate the scientific evidence and embrace emerging technologies and innovation to guarantee better global public health.