The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is a global treaty aimed at reducing the demand for tobacco products and controlling their supply. It provides a framework for governments to implement various measures to combat tobacco use, including taxation, labeling, advertising restrictions, and smoke-free policies.
This year, the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) takes place in Panama, November 20–25, 2023.
Discussions and decisions at these meetings influence tobacco control policies at a global level. These decisions will be significant in determining the future of safer nicotine products, such as nicotine e-cigarettes, snus, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco products. The availability of these products is crucial to realizing the public health potential of tobacco harm reduction in global efforts to combat smoking-related death and disease.
Harm reduction is one of the three pillars of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Article 1.d of the FCTC defines tobacco control as "a range of supply, demand and harm reduction strategies that aim to improve the health of a population by eliminating or reducing their consumption of tobacco products and exposure to tobacco smoke" [emphasis added]. Despite this, harm reduction has not been discussed at the COP meetings to this day.
Tobacco harm reduction strategies, such as promoting alternative nicotine delivery systems like e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, have the potential to significantly reduce the health risks associated with traditional cigarette smoking. Allowing dialogue on this topic can help explore evidence-based approaches to reducing death & disease caused by tobacco.
It's crucial that policymakers have access to a comprehensive understanding of all available strategies for combating tobacco use. Banning dialogue on harm reduction limits the exchange of information and may hinder the development of effective policies.
Different individuals have different preferences and needs when it comes to quitting or reducing tobacco use. Some may find success with traditional cessation methods, while others may benefit more from harm-reduction approaches. Allowing dialogue ensures that a range of options are considered and available.
Harm reduction approaches can help reduce the stigma associated with tobacco use. For many individuals struggling with addiction, especially long-term smokers, transitioning to less harmful alternatives can be an important step towards improved health. This strategy has already been implemented in various regions. Evaluating and discussing the outcomes of these efforts at COP 10 can provide valuable insights into their effectiveness and potential areas for improvement.
If harm-reduction products like e-cigarettes are to be part of the solution, they need to be properly regulated to ensure quality, safety, and efficacy. Including this topic in discussions allows for the development of evidence-based regulations. Excluding dialogue on harm reduction may alienate stakeholders who support or are involved in harm reduction efforts. Engaging these groups in the discussion can lead to more collaborative and effective policies.
In conclusion, allowing dialogue on tobacco harm reduction at COP 10 provides an opportunity to explore evidence-based approaches that can complement existing tobacco control efforts and potentially lead to improved public health outcomes. It's important to approach this topic with an open mind and a commitment to rigorous scientific evaluation.