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Experts: Harm reduction policies could cut tobacco related deaths

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African governments could see a significant reduction in tobacco related deaths through the adoption of harm reduction policies as opposed to complete prohibitions.

Speaking at the third annual Harm Reduction Exchange (HRE) in Nairobi, African Medical Association and the Association of Medical Councils of Africa president Dr. Kgosi Letlape said harm reduction in the continent is a more transformative strategy than prohibition-based policies.

“There are limited human rights and a bias in the social perception that has been created around smoking and that creates the challenge around harm reduction. There is need to incorporate community driven public health strategies including prevention, risk reduction and health promotion to empower active and passive users of drugs with a choice to live healthy and self-directed,’’ he said.

HRE also backs alternatives to tobacco harm that are less risky and easy to quit like effective regulation and access to noncombustible products such as pouches and e-cigarette for adult smokers who are unable or uninterested in quitting.

Statistics indicate that Kenya has an estimated 2.8 million adult smokers with the country spending billions in tobacco intervention measures.

Countries like South Africa have already implemented THR policies and programs by legalizing the sale of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. Kenya is also considering legalizing e-cigarettes.

Integra Africa principal, Dr Tendai Mhizha also called upon media stakeholders to be at the forefront in informing, advocating and sensitizing the public on harm reduction which also includes HIV/AIDS, road traffic safety, environmental conservation as well as tobacco control.

“With the advent of technology, we find that misinformation and disinformation are becoming increasingly prevalent with the democratization of the information space. Moving forward, there is a need to ensure that stakeholders are well informed with current and relevant information about the science, the changes that occur and how we can advance towards a smoke-free world,” she added.

HRE added that there is need for collaboration between Africa and experts in the harmonization of public healthcare regulation of THR (Tobacco Harm Reduction) products, as it will enable a positive step towards reducing the harms associated with the use of the substance.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 7 million people in Africa die from direct tobacco use.

Sally Namuye
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