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Tobacco Harm Reduction Summit 2023: What more can be done to reach a smoke-free future?

By Emily Malia 29th October 2023 4 Mins


As the sixth Tobacco Harm Reduction Summit took place, organisations from across the globe discussed what more can be done to reach the summit of a smoke-free future.

Now more than ever, the spread of misinformation is rife, and with the ‘war on vaping’ not showing any signs of stopping..more work must be done to fight the good fight.

This year, the sixth annual Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) Summit took place in Athens and initiated some incredibly topical conversations, with its key message being that the resistance to harm reduction is growing.

Following on from a very successful fifth summit, the event aims to attract researchers, clinicians and scientists from diverse fields and across the globe to discuss their work in THR.

The objective of the Summit is to create opportunities for scientists from all walks of life to both share and challenge recent data related to the benefits and the risks associated with alternative tobacco product use.

Along with this, they discuss and debate medical, regulatory, legal and policy issues and provide an environment where rule-makers can share their course of action.

This year, representatives at the summit have called for the alignment of communication in order to clamp down on the mixed messaging that surrounds tobacco novel products. However, they won’t have to face this alone.

The international association on Smoking Control and Harm Reduction is leading an alliance of THR organisations in the fight against false claims.

The group stresses that people urgently need to give clear and strong messaging about the scientific evidence on the benefits of cessation tools, following the emergence of misleading statements that affect the trust of consumers, governments and institutions.

During the first speech of the day, Professor Ezat Wan Puteh said:

“The truth is, THR is a human right issue. Harm Reduction is not just about reducing the harm from substance use.
“It is also about addressing stigma, marginalisation, criminalisation, inequalities and oppression, in an effort to protect health, dignity and liberty, including the liberty of making informed personal choices.”

His speech was incredibly powerful, and many vaping advocates were moved online by his words, but it seems that the online hysteria surrounding anti-vaping is gradually becoming a battle of political correctness of those with differing opinions Martin Cullip, who spoke on behalf of the consumers, said:

“We cannot allow these products to be banned now, as the WHO seems to wish, because we will have to wait for some 60 years before we can get them back.”

Also advocating for the importance of harm reduction in his presentation was Professor Heino Stover.

He said:

“The fact that a non-smoke nicotine delivery system was rapidly available and widely used seems to be the most likely explanation for Sweden’s great success in reducing smoking rates and smoking related diseases.”

One of New Zealand’s leading tobacco researchers. Marewa Glover put it best when she said ‘education is number one, not taxes’ and Glover believes that misconceptions were part of the reason why smoking cessation is hard to achieve.

The tobacco researcher thinks it’s important to help educate those who lack access to the knowledge as they are more likely to reject health risk messages

She said:

“We assume that everyone knows that smoking kills, but some people really don’t know.”

The summit concluded with an expert panel representing different THR organisations discussing how they can collaborate in ways to advance education opportunities for health policy experts, regulators and the general public.

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Emily Malia