Harm reduction model can help tackle smoking

In an effort to enhance Africa’s public health, stakeholders in the health sector have been challenged to consider harm reduction as a guiding principle in their public health strategies to help tackle tobacco smoking. This call came out when Kenya hosted the third Harm Reduction Exchange, with the primary focus on enhancing tobacco harm reduction initiatives.

Harm reduction is a strategy aimed at mitigating the adverse effects of health-related behaviours without necessarily eradicating them or promoting complete abstinence from harmful substances. This approach is gradually gaining prominence as a more compassionate and effective approach in public health.

A call to embrace these harm reduction products and policies was made during the third annual Harm Reduction Exchange event, themed “Amplifying the Voice of Harm Reduction Advocacy across Africa.”

During the conference, Dr. Letlape, the President of the Africa Medical Association and the Association of Medical Councils of Africa, challenged African governments to incorporate harm reduction approaches into their public health policies.

Prohibition-based policies

Harm reduction is a more transformative strategy compared to prohibition-based policies and is superior to simply advocating for complete abstinence. This approach offers a practical and transformative way, encompassing community-driven public health strategies such as prevention, risk reduction, and health promotion.

Its goal is to empower individuals engaged in risky health behaviors to make healthier choices for themselves and their communities.

Various harm reduction strategies have been implemented worldwide in recent times to address different issues, particularly related to substance use and other risky behaviors.

These strategies include Needle Exchange Programs, supervised injection sites, condom distribution, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), Vaping, and e-cigarettes, as well as supervised consumption of medications.

Even tobacco smokers can be provided with less harmful options, as Dr. Tendai noted, “Harm reduction is the better path forward.” By offering adult smokers information, choices, and moral support to move away from smoking while reducing underage drug use, harm reduction represents a powerful step toward achieving this goal.

Several African countries have already begun implementing Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) products, policies, and programs. South Africa, for instance, recently legalised the sale of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, while Kenya is in the process of regulating THR products and considering the legalization of e-cigarettes.

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Vapes and Velo gaining popularity

Substances such as Vapes and Velo have gained popularity among users. Velo is a nicotine pouch placed in the mouth and is known to be highly addictive.

Recently, MPs called for the ban of pouch sales by the Ministry of Health, citing a violation of The Kenya Tobacco Act of 2007, which mandates that all tobacco products and nicotine pouches should have warnings in both English and Kiswahili on their packaging.

Vaping has also gained popularity, with aggressive marketing tactics targeting young people, particularly through social media influence. The habit appears to be considered “trendy,” not only due to the vaping gadgets themselves but also because of the various available flavors, such as strawberry, lemon, cinnamon, and more.

It was also noted that organizations practicing harm reduction offer a wider spectrum of strategies to meet individuals where they are, on their terms. These strategies may serve as a pathway to additional health and social services, including prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

Dr. Tendai, Principal of Integra Africa, highlighted the importance of raising awareness about tobacco harm reduction as a public health strategy. THR encourages adult smokers who are unable or uninterested in quitting tobacco entirely to transition to less harmful, non-combustible product alternatives. This approach has the potential to be one of the most significant public health achievements of our time.

The harmonization of public healthcare regulation of THR products across Africa represents a positive step toward reducing the harms associated with tobacco use.

It also signifies the government’s commitment to public health and the well-being of their citizens, aiming to protect them from the dangers of tobacco smoke and safeguard the health and well-being of the continent’s population.

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