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LAHORE: Tobacco-harm reduction is now being globally recognized as an important public health strategy, to reduce risks to their health and attention is being paid to transfer traditional cigarette smoking to heated tobacco products.

In view of the rapid rise in the number of smokers worldwide, tobacco companies are seeking to introduce innovative, science and research-based solutions in the form of alternatives. One of such reduced risk technology are heated tobacco products.

Rooted in the principle of tobacco-harm reduction, a public health strategy that aims to lower the health risks to individuals and wider society associated with using tobacco products, these devices heat the tobacco instead of burning (which science shows is the main culprit of most smoking-related diseases) it as in conventional cigarettes and cigars. They, therefore, produce far lower quantities of harmful compounds, 95 percent less to be exact according to Public Health England (PHE), than found in cigarette smoke.

With the increasing awareness of the harmful health effects of cigarettes and their impact on the environment, there has been a strong surge in the demand for less harmful alternatives. However, due to the lack of a regulatory policy in place, many tobacco stores in Pakistan are directly selling to customers, while a majority of such devices are also being sold online that are mainly smuggled and non-duty paid.

"In addition to curbing the illicit trade of cigarettes and non-combusted alternatives, regulating reduced risk products and having them as part of the tobacco control and public health policies will also help in providing adult smokers the right information and options as opposed to continued smoking," said Muhammad Zeeshan, Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer (CEO) at Philip Morris Pakistan Limited.

It may be noted that validating the reduced level of toxins contained in these products compared to traditional cigarettes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had authorized the marketing of these tobacco heating systems last year as "Modified Risk Tobacco Products."

Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Centre for Tobacco Products, asserted that marketing of these products with the authorized information can "help addicted adult smokers' transition away from combusted cigarettes and reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, but only if they completely switch".

According to the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS), "while nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, it's relatively harmless. Almost all of the harm from smoking comes from the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic."

While not risk-free, studies show that these non-combusted products carry far lower levels of harmful compounds than combustible cigarettes. There is scientific evidence that proves if a smoker switches completely to these products from smoking, they are likely to have substantial improvements in their health.

"It makes no sense to deny adult smokers, who would otherwise continue to smoke, access to scientifically substantiated less harmful alternatives to continued smoking," remarked Andleeb Uroos Ahmed, Head of Communications at Philip Morris Pakistan Limited," she added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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