Kenya: Achieving Tobacco Harm Reduction without Evaporating Freedoms

Whether chewing, sniffing, or smoking, tobacco consumption is a tradition woven in the genealogical history of human existence. Despite causing over seven million deaths annually, tobacco use is widespread, especially among adolescents. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that nearly eighty percent of the world’s one billion smokers live in low and middle-income countries. The reason for this is not apparent, but rich or poor, we know many people love to smoke, and that is not entirely a bad thing if it is their choice.

However, to lessen the harm caused by tobacco consumption to individuals and the public, public health professionals introduced the concept of tobacco harm reduction (THR) in the mid-1970s to bring down the harmful substances in nicotine products and make it safer to smoke. Over the years, this led to the creation of smoking alternatives, policies, and programs planned and implemented to reduce the harm from tobacco consumption and manage addictive behaviors for individuals.

What are safe alternatives?

According to Tobacco Tactics, people smoke because they are addicted to nicotine, though the other toxins in tobacco cause the most harm. People can obtain nicotine from a range of products, which vary in their concentration level. Over the years, we have seen many organizations fund and mobilize against tobacco consumption in many countries. While they may have restricted access to safer alternatives through bans and high taxes, they could not achieve the tangible success of reducing smoking rates.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Smokeless tobacco is one of the oldest forms of smoking. It is promoted as a safe alternative because it delivers nicotine without combustion, orally or nasally, by chewing, sucking, or sniffing.[/perfectpullquote]

When a society embarks on creating policies or programs without considering people’s behavioral patterns, it cannot achieve its core aim. People who smoke are human beings who are exercising their freedom of choice despite the consequences. With this insight, tobacco harm reduction advocates that smokers should be allowed to switch to using nicotine in its less harmful forms. Some safe alternatives include electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), smokeless tobacco, snus, heated tobacco products, and nicotine pouches.

An electronic cigarette is a battery-operated device that emits a vaporized solution (containing nicotine) that you can inhale. They provide the sensation of inhaling tobacco smoke without the smoke. ENDS became prominent among tobacco users in the early 2000s. By 2020, the market size was valued at $17.3 trillion, with products ranging from e-hookahs, vaporizer cigarettes, vapes, and vape pens.

Smokeless tobacco is one of the oldest forms of smoking. It is promoted as a safe alternative because it delivers nicotine without combustion, orally or nasally, by chewing, sucking, or sniffing. In 2010, a traditional Scandinavian smokeless tobacco product called snus became a widely recognized alternative because of its spit-free nature. The smokeless tobacco market size was valued at $19.64 billion in 2020, showing its acceptance among smokers in countries where they are available.

HTPs contain tobacco, but they are heated explicitly without reaching ignition to produce an emission containing nicotine and other chemicals. According to experts, when you heat the tobacco rather than burn it, the formation of harmful substances created at high temperatures associated with combustion is significantly reduced. They valued the global HTP market size at $4.04 billion in 2018.

Nicotine pouches do not contain tobacco leaves but are a form of dehydrated nicotine. It is made to be placed between the lip and gum and absorbed into the bloodstream via the mucous membranes in the mouth. The global nicotine pouches market was valued at $2.33 billion in 2020.

Are these alternatives truly safer?

They already regulated nicotine pouches and snus as food products in Sweden. Likewise, these products have been proven successful in the same country, including Norway, Iceland, Japan, and Korea. Promoting and allowing access to these safer tobacco products is likely more productive than the usual anti-tobacco strategies such as high taxes and advertising bans.

Though research on alternative tobacco products is still ongoing, experts have revealed that alternative products like e-cigarettes, snus, and others are safer. Still, besides that, they help smokers quit, thus reducing the effect of smoking on individuals and the public’s health.

Edam Shem is the Kenyan affairs manager at the Foundation for Consumer Freedom Advancement.

Photo by Ravish via Unsplash.