Career Advice - A Community Blog

Erik Larson writes about the job market, resume improvement, and career advice

Harm reduction is also reducing smoking numbers

Written by Erik Larson, Community Blogger | Nov 8, 2017 4:59 PM

After years of frustratingly slow progress in cutting smoking figures, a new strategy is being credited with a marked decline in numbers. Harm reduction - a current buzzword in the world of anti-tobacco and drug campaigning - marks a radical departure from previous anti-smoking approaches. It is a term with a broad definition, but it crucially hinges on the idea of lessening the negative impact of tobacco on both the individual and those around them, rather than trying to make people quit in the traditional cold turkey style.

That might sound counter-intuitive. After all, the health dangers associated with smoking have been established for decades now, and anything other than quitting all together will continue to pose a health risk. But the increasing number of alternative sources of nicotine, such as electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn, show that there are now other options which smokers can turn to for their nicotine rush without anywhere near as many associated health risks.

Critics of vaping point out that, given that it is a relatively new phenomenon, there is an inadequate supply of long-term data regarding how much harm it actually does to an individual. However, an expert independent evidence review conducted by Public Health England and backed by the UK government has concluded that electronic cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful to health than tobacco.

That they may still represent a five per cent risk of the ill-effects of smoking suggests that total abstinence remains the best long-term course of action. But with roughly 90 per cent of smokers failing to quit with recommended dedicated pharmaceutical smoking cessation programmes over 12 months according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the gradual approach of harm reduction is being seen as a far more productive method.

This is now being reflected in government strategies across the globe.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this year passed a new tobacco rule which extended their authority over products including cigars, pipe tobacco and, crucially, electronic cigarettes. This was widely seen as the FDA widening their control over tools vital to reducing smoking numbers such as electronic cigarettes, which have grown enormously in popularity over the last decade.

It is the same in the United Kingdom, where the government is now promoting the use of nontraditional cigarettes as a quitting aid in attempt to wean people off tobacco products. Ultimately, the idea of reducing the harm done by something as damaging as smoking rather than encouraging people to quit entirely may seem unpalatable, particularly given the subsequent strain placed on healthcare from smoking-related illnesses.

But the figures do not lie: people are more likely to quit smoking by taking a gradual piecemeal approach to quitting rather than trying to go cold turkey. This new approach reduces not only harm, but also smoker numbers. 

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