"Cigarettes and smoking substitutes are not similar products in terms of the damage they cause"/ShutterStock
It is rare that the world's most respected health magazine, "The Lancet", criticizes such a central body as the World Health Organization (WHO).
But this is exactly what happened in the last issue of the magazine, when it published a scathing article attacking the approach of the World Health Organization to ban smoking substitutes or treat them the same as cigarettes.
The article was written by researchers Ruth Bonita and Robert Bigelow.
Bigelow held a senior position at the World Health Organization until recently, and knows the organization's operations from the inside.
"Cigarettes and smoking substitutes are not similar products in terms of the damage they cause," the two wrote in the article.
"Using alternatives to smoking is a necessary condition for lowering smoking rates and promoting public health. The World Health Organization must adopt the tobacco harm reduction approach that refers to smoking alternatives as a tool to reduce the number of smokers as necessary. It is the smoke in cigarettes that causes smoking-related diseases, not the nicotine found in substitutes."
A call to adopt a "harm reduction" approach
In the article, which made a big noise in the medical world, the two researchers presented examples of countries that managed to dramatically lower the percentage of smokers thanks to their encouragement among the smoking population to switch to smoking substitutes, which contain nicotine, but not smoke.
As proven in many studies - the process of burning tobacco during cigarette smoking is the one that causes health damage, and not the nicotine itself, which is found in smoking substitutes such as heating tobacco or vaporizing nicotine liquid.
The two called on the World Health Organization to adopt the "harm reduction" approach, while encouraging the use of nicotine-based smoking substitutes and their regulatory regulation.
Reducing tobacco harm is the fastest and most effective way to lower smoking rates among the population and prevent diseases and deaths related to smoking.
In the basis of the article, the two researchers presented examples of countries that adopted and accepted smoking substitutes that contain smokeless nicotine and experienced a dramatic decrease in smoking rates in the country.
For example, New Zealand, where the smoking rate was 13.3 percent in 2017-2018.
As of 2022-2023, the rate of smokers in the country has dropped to 6.8 percent, after the state encouraged smokers to switch to electronic smoking substitutes.
The government supported their marketing and regulation.
As of today, the use of smoking substitutes in New Zealand has increased from 2.6 percent to 9.7 percent.
Great Britain: the smoking substitutes caused a drop in the percentage of smokers from 30 to 13.5 percent
In Britain, too, they realized that encouraging the use of substitutes helps smokers to abandon cigarettes.
In recent years, the British government has been encouraging smokers to switch to alternatives.
The result - from a rate of 30% smokers, currently only 13.5 percent smoke in the UK.
The same is true in Japan, which recorded a dramatic decrease in cigarette consumption after the rapid penetration of alternative products based on heating tobacco instead of burning tobacco into the local market.
"There is no scientific justification for the position of the World Health Organization, according to which electronic cigarettes and new nicotine products based on heating tobacco should be treated like cigarettes," the two researchers stated in their article.
"The World Health Organization's current approach to lower-risk products is a reward for countries that ban the use of electronic cigarettes, as was done with India. The success of many countries in reducing smoking requires the World Health Organization to change its approach. The 1.3 billion smokers worldwide, half of whom will die early, deserve this leadership," the researchers concluded in their article.
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