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Harm Reduction Campaign

Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn is right: Thailand can save lives and promote innovation by legalizing nicotine alternatives

Bangkok, TH – As Thailand considers revising its ban on harm reducing nicotine delivery products, a global consumer advocacy group is praising the actions of Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, who has recognized the importance of harm reduction in saving the lives of smokers who want to quit.

“The growing body of evidence from countries around the world points to a steep decrease in smoking rates once we allow harm reducing nicotine alternatives such as vaping products, snus, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco products,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center. “The smoking rate in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are already at historical lows.

“Considering that over 50,000 Thai die each year due to smoking, amending the current bans and restrictions on these alternative nicotine products would mean lives would be saved almost immediately.

“In that, we praise the comments and recent actions of Digital Economy and Society Minister, Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, who has been willing to hear the evidence on the scientific and health evidence in favor of vaping and nicotine alternatives and has made the case for how innovation in harm reduction can help save lives,” said Ossowski.

“In addition, the National Tobacco Products Control Committee’s ban on vaping imports has paved the way for a dangerous illicit market, meaning that ordinary Thai citizens who gain access to these life-saving products are not only at risk of significant fines by authorities, but also face more health risks related to illicit products that are not inspected and regulated by state agencies. Added to that, the government is losing out on potentially millions in tax revenue that could be used to fund healthcare, education, and vital social projects.

“If Thailand were to embrace innovation and endorse a strategy of harm reduction, they would not only be saving potentially millions of lives, but the country would also create a new wave of entrepreneurial investment and drive that would surely lead to an economic boom,” concluded Ossowski.

Hawaii: Eliminating vape flavors would cause more problems than it would solve

By Yaël Ossowski

When the state acts to protect our children, we trust it will do so with knowledge and responsibility. Considering the rise in availability of vaping products this last decade, it is understandable that the State Legislature has been called on to act.

But if Hawaii curbs the sale of flavored vaping products — intended for adult former smokers — this will not eradicate the problem of youth access. Rather, it may make it even worse.

Health committee chair Rep. Ryan Yamane admitted as much last week, stating “I don’t want our youth who are electronic savvy to get access to unknown supplies or, who knows, black-market cartridges laced with dangerous substances through the internet where we don’t know where it’s coming from.”

What Yamane alludes to is the 2019 EVALI epidemic, when illicit cannabis vaping devices made their way into the hands of thousands of people across the country, causing death and serious lung injuries that spread panic around vaping products. There were 4 cases in Hawaii.

The CDC has concluded that virtually every case was linked to a supply of bootleg THC vape cartridges laced with Vitamin E Acetate. While these products are far removed from the vaping devices found in convenience stores and vape shops, even though activists have attempted to connect them, the EVALI crisis demonstrates the ills associated with unregulated black market products.

Massachusetts enacted a ban on flavored vaping products in 2019 and the results should raise caution. Since the ban, a massive influx of smuggled tobacco and vape products has resulted in a thriving black market, siphoning tax revenue for the state, criminalizing adult consumers trying to make the healthier choice, and exposing kids to black market dealers who don’t ask for ID.

Making a product illegal will not necessarily make the demand for it go away, as the era of Prohibition taught us.

If Hawaii moves forward with a vaping flavor ban, they’ll not only endanger our kids, but they will also push adult consumers to switch back to smoking combustible tobacco, a disaster for public health. Over 1,400 Hawaiians lose their lives to smoking-related illnesses each year. As found in multiple studies and even Public Health England, vapers benefit from 95% less harm than cigarettes.

Fortunately, more than 7% of Hawaii’s adult population uses vaping products, accounting for over 100,000 Hawaiians who have switched to a better alternative, including our elderly. According to data from the Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health, the largest demographic of Hawaiian vapers are actually over 65.

If those retirees have their smoking cession options taken away, it will not only nudge them back to smoking and put their health at risk, but it would cost Hawaii dearly. Smoking-related healthcare costs already cost Hawaiian taxpayers $141.7 million annually, not to mention the pain of long-term illnesses and deaths experienced by many families.

Our goal should be to expand people’s choices to quitting tobacco, not to limit them severely.

What’s more, similar bans to what is proposed here in Hawaii have actually been demonstrated to increase smoking rates among youth in jurisdictions like San Francisco. Data from the Journal of the American Medicine Association shows that the flavored vaping product ban caused increased smoking rates for youth aged 18 and younger.

If we are concerned about youth gaining access to vaping products, we need to ask why it is happening. Are retailers breaking the law and selling it to them? Are they asking older friends or family to acquire for them? Will adult users of these products still have less harmful alternatives to cigarettes if we outlaw them? These are important considerations.

Teenagers seek out risky behavior, whether it is drugs, alcohol, or vaping devices. Education and parental responsibility, however, would be much more effective than a sweeping ban that would boost a new black market and deprive responsible adults of products they have sought to improve their lives. This is the choice Hawaii will have to make.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

The case for permissionless innovation in tobacco harm reduction

By Yaël Ossowski

As a consumer advocate enamored with technology, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a new product or service providing a solution to an old problem.

The entire world of Bitcoin — lightning nodes, censorship resistance, and frictionless cross-border payments — is doing wonders for financial freedom and security.

Ride-sharing and home-sharing apps are putting dormant property to use, providing income for drivers and homeowners and rides and places to stay for tourists and students.

And when it comes to tobacco harm reduction, innovation is picking up at breakneck speed, offering new and more effective ways to wean smokers off the harms of cigarettes. At another time, this is something public health organizations would have praised.

Pod vaping devices, open tanks, synthetic nicotine disposables, snus, heated tobacco products, and nicotine pouches are offering precisely what former smokers need without the same level of risk, all varied to some degree.

It is the permissionless innovation of this entire field — entrepreneurs large and small — that provides such hope to us technological optimists and harm reduction advocates. It excites us to the opportunities that progress can provide.

But for opponents of this particular shade of innovation — whether health groups, academics, or competing lobbies —  the very nature of how these products come to be is what so concerns them.

The vast majority of vaping products and alternative tobacco products are not spawned from public grants, university studies, or government programs, but rather from the process of entrepreneurial discovery, offering solutions to problems that exist in society.

This could be a former-smoker turned vaping entrepreneur with a thriving flavored liquids business run out of his garage, a multinational tobacco firm with thousands of employees, or a group of engineering students who just want to create a cool and safer alternative to the daily pack of cigarettes.

These entrepreneurial forces are reacting to a demand in the market, namely, millions of smokers who want to stub their last cigarette. For many of us, this is a positive example of permissionless innovation. For others, it is nothing more than greed and exploitation.

One can understand that the institutions and lobby groups that oppose efforts at tobacco harm reduction are threatened by private industries providing solutions more effective than the status quo. Or perhaps they even question their intentions.

But the fact remains that millions of former smokers, driven by their own conscious wants and needs, have found an alternative that works for them, provided by firms and entrepreneurs who did not ask for the permission of authorities. That is how our market economies should work.

To that end, new lines of nicotine pouches, vape mods, and disposable vapes are debuted on the market each day, some better than others.

Many of these innovators will fail: perhaps they will create a product that fails to gain customers or blur ethical lines on their advertising that eventually send them to court. Or, as in most cases, will vastly underestimate the cottage industry of governmental lobbying that can only be navigated by the most skilled and politically-connected industries, as the US Food & Drug Administration’s byzantine PMTA process has demonstrated.

That said, we should continue to cheer the innovators that provide us with solutions. And we should support them when their interests, and by extension, ours, are threatened by burdensome regulations and bureaucratic decrees.

When legislators are fed false narratives about lung illnesses and their connection to legal vaping products, as the 2019 EVALI crisis demonstrated, or perhaps are confronted with bombastic claims about a youth vaping epidemic, we must stand up for the people for precisely the people who will be hurt by spontaneous legislation: the adult users of the drug who just want a better option.

There are real externalities that must be dealt with: youth access, dangerous products laced with other compounds, and faulty devices that endanger users.

But we cannot kneecap the permissionless innovation in tobacco harm reduction that is saving lives and giving us solutions we couldn’t even imagine. If that remains a priority for consumer advocates like myself, it will have made all the difference.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Smoking is up for the first time in a generation. The public health lobby is to blame

By Yaël Ossowski

It often takes a long time for health policy influencers, advocates, and proponents to admit fault. 

When it is about topics such as diet fads, saturated fats, food pyramids, and sugar consumption, long-held consensus beliefs and government actions later proved erroneous have had a lasting negative impact.

But nothing has been more egregious and harmful in our current age than the public health lobby’s persistent denialism of the harm reduction value of nicotine vaping products and other alternatives to cigarettes.

That denialism has come in many forms: public information campaigns demonizing vaping devices, misinformation on lung illnesses caused by tainted cannabis cartridges, bans, restrictions, and taxes on flavored nicotine products (especially those without tobacco), Kafkaesque market authorization applications handled by the drug regulators, and a never-ending crusade to deny adult consumers from having access to life-saving products because of illicit and risky behavior by teens.

These public health bodies, anti-smoking groups, and allied journalists, whatever their intent, have sought to convince the public that not only is smoking bad and dangerous — an easy admission — but also that alternative nicotine devices like vaping products, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco are just as or even riskier than a pack of smokes.

Those conclusions are easily debunked by the millions of passionate vapers who have long since put down cigarettes and taken up customized tanks, vaporizers, and flavored liquids that give them a familiar nicotine sensation without the tar and combustible byproducts of tobacco.

David Butow for Rolling Stone

The public health mission to muddy the popular perception of nicotine alternatives such as vaping — even though it is scientifically proven to be 95% less harmful than cigarettes — is causing actual damage to American public health. And now we have the proof.

That proof is found both in the increased sales of cigarettes nationwide and also in a highly concentrated study on teen smoking in a jurisdiction where flavored nicotine vaping was outlawed.

According to the sales figures collected by the Federal Trade Commission for its 2020 Cigarette Report, Americans bought more cigarettes in 2020 than they have in more than a generation.

“The total number of cigarettes reported sold by the major manufacturers, 203.7 billion units in 2020, increased by 0.8 billion units (0.4 percent) from 2019, the first increase in cigarettes sold in twenty years,” cites the report.

Americans could be buying more cigarettes for a multitude of reasons: lockdowns, stress from both the pandemic and the government responses to the pandemic, job losses, closed schools, and more. Or perhaps because they’ve been told repeatedly by trusted public health sources and news outlets that vaping, an alternative that millions of adult consumers are now using to quit smoking, is just as dangerous.

Whatever your conclusion, the trend that lowered the percentage of US smokers down to 14 percent in 2019 (when the last complete nationwide survey was completed) is halting. And that should concern us all.

We see anecdotal echoes of this in a recent style piece in the New York Times, highlighting the “comeback” of cigarettes among the bourgeois hipster crowd in Brooklyn, New York. 

“I switched back to cigarettes because I thought it would be healthier than Juuling,” claimed one woman. It seems the public health lobbies have done their job.

On the more evidentiary side, an extensive May 2021 article published in JAMA Pediatrics found that after San Francisco’s ban on flavored vaping and tobacco products, more teens took up smoking.

“San Francisco’s ban on flavored tobacco product sales was associated with increased smoking among minor high school students relative to other school districts,” concludes the paper.

As tobacco harm reduction advocates have claimed for several years, the persistent public health campaigns, echoed by headline-grabbing media outlets, to demonize and restrict access to vaping has led to a predictable rise in smoking rates, both among adults and teens.

Whatever your view on whether vaping devices, heated tobacco, snus, or nicotine pouches are the most attractive and effective gateway away from smoking, this recent uptick in smoking demonstrates actual harms result when politically-charged health lobbies seek to extinguish market alternatives. And we must ask why they persist.

The opposition of these groups, along with affiliated journalists and researchers, to the rise of nicotine alternatives may have less to do with quantitative questions of science and health and more to do with how these products were created and are delivered: by entrepreneurs providing solutions in the market.

These entrepreneurs are vape shop owners, makers of vape liquids, gas station owners, vaping technology firms, tobacco firms pivoting to alternative products, and an entire creative class of vaping influencers both on and offline who are trying to give smokers a second chance at a long life. These are the true heroes of harm reduction in the 21st century.

The fact that spontaneous markets can deliver helpful and healthier solutions because of consumer demand, rather than by edicts, funding, and programs directly controlled by public health bureaucracies and agencies, runs counter to much of the ideology in the tobacco control space. 

It is the former, therefore, that is the true American innovative spirit that has helped make this country so prosperous and competitive, while the latter has failed us again and again.

If we want to reclaim a true public health victory and help smokers quit to give them long and fruitful lives, it is time to cast aside this aversion to the innovations of the market. The future health of our nation depends on it.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center

The obscure UN conflab that seeks to cut off the world from vaping and harm reduction

While most popular attention this month has been on the vital discussions at the United Nation’s COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, there is an equally important UN conference happening in Geneva that also contemplates the fate of millions of lives.

There are also questions on the importance of science, the role of activists and industry, and how humanity can forget a better path based on common agreements to be implemented in each country.

This year, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an obscure World Health Organization treaty dedicated to eradicating tobacco use, is having its ninth iteration, known as COP9 in Switzerland.

At this conference, 168 member delegations — as well as a narrowly selected group of tobacco control advocates — participate in discussions and debates to forge global standards on taxation, restrictions, and rules on tobacco products.

While no one would object to these goals, the conference threatens to put one of the largest public health victories in recent memory at stake: tobacco harm reduction by innovative technologies.

Though the well-documented scientific evidence on the life-saving potential of smokers switching to less harmful vaping devices is clear and undeniable, it is one scientific fact that is ignored or denied throughout the event.

As I have uncovered in my two trips to the COP FCTC event, one of the most dogmatic conclusions of the event organizers is that they consider nicotine vaping devices, what they label Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (or ENDS), as ordinary tobacco products that should be as harshly taxed, regulated, and eventually eradicated from the market altogether.

It is this nuance — that alternative harm reducing technologies like vaping or heat-not-burn devices pose the same threat as traditional cigarettes — that so animates activists, former smokers, and some health officials who criticise the FCTC and its proceedings. Not to mention the yearly mission of several delegations to completely bar journalists and media from any of the debates.

Considering that many countries represented have embraced policies that elevate harm reduction and acceptance of vaping at home, including the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and New Zealand, it is perhaps most frustrating that this nuance is stopped at the door and reiterated by the power brokers at COP.

What makes COP9 FCTC different from its climate change cousin is the elevated role of public health lobbies and advocacy groups throughout the proceeding.

Groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention, and the Framework Convention Alliance on Tobacco Control are the recognised NGOs that are able to intervene in parts of the discussions and help set the agenda.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has pledged millions directly to these organizations and similar entities, with hopes that any tobacco-related products— including vaping devices — are regulated, restricted, and banned. It is no surprise, then, that any efforts to recognise the life-saving potential of vaping devices are blocked immediately.

These lobby groups have routinely been caught bribing and funding various political bodies in developing nations with the goal of restricting and banning vaping devices.

What’s more, they often bully and shame delegations if they do not adopt a strict prohibitionist attitude on tobacco alternatives like vaping, awarding countries like the Philippines, Honduras, or Guatemala with “Dirty Ashtray” awards for “insisting on amendments with unhelpful and often confusing wording” or for requesting “further discussion” on various amendments.

The Filipino delegation, in their video statement to open the conference, said that it was important to recognise vaping devices and “products that deliver a similar satisfaction but with far less harm”.

The recognition of this fact — and the potential to save millions of smokers’ lives — by the delegations at the FCTC’s COP9 is realistically the most pressing issue that should be addressed. It is one that millions of vapers, who have added years to their life by switching away from tobacco, should have represented in an international body.

Whether delegations will understand this key point, and whether they will embrace science over prohibitionist ideology, however, remains to be seen.

Originally published here

The EU should follow the UK’s lead on harm reduction at FCTC COP next week

The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC COP) is coming up next week, after having been cancelled last year. The meeting will assess the progress of WHO states in their reduction of smoking rates and continue its recommendations to curb the use of tobacco products.

Curiously, in the conversations over the last few years, FCTC has been keen to include non-tobacco products in its considerations. The WHO’s crusade against vaping products remains a public health mystery, not least because studies have underlined how e-cigarettes represent a reliable smoking cessation tool.

The international health body’s claim that e-cigarettes are harmful to human health is distorting the harm reducing reality of vaping, and stands against Public Health England’s findings that it is 95% safer than smoking conventional cigarettes, a number which it has been happy to reiterate.

UK public health officials have firmly pushed back against the WHO, accusing it of “spreading misinformation“. The fact that the WHO remains undeterred in its opposition to e-cigarettes is a reason for concern because the body appears to channel a political sticking to its guns than a scientific reevaluation of its earlier statements.

The UK’s public policy response to vaping has been a more productive one, as numbers have shown. According to England’s 2021 vaping evidence update: “In 2020, 27.2% of people used a vaping product in a quit attempt in the previous 12 months. This compares with 15.5% who used NRT over the counter or on prescription (2.7%), and 4.4% who used varenicline.”

In 2017, 50,000 smokers quit their habit through vaping. Overall, the government recognises the effectiveness of vaping as superior to any other smoking cessation tools. This is also backed up by 50+ studies in a review done by the Cochrane policy institute.

The European Union’s response to e-cigarettes has unfortunately followed WHO doctrine, which sets out to regulate and restrict vaping to such an extent that it becomes uninteresting to users to continue. So far, the real risk that this means that many vapers could switch back to smoking regular cigarettes has yet to reach the conscience of EU lawmakers.

Instead of following its current line, the European Union should follow the lead of the United Kingdom and its successful experiment with vaping. The FCTC COP meeting in Geneva next month is an excellent occasion to do exactly that, especially now that 100 public health specialists have signed an open letter calling for an FCTC policy reversal on vaping.

To be clear, vaping is not a one-size-fits-all solution to smoking as a public health issue, but to many current smokers, it is an adequate substitute that is safer and, in the long run, can lead to stopping tobacco use altogether.

Visitors of vape shops can confirm: most vape shops offer the different flavours in 0% nicotine options as well, and one will be hard-pressed to find vape shop owners who push customers to increase their nicotine consumption levels. Quite the contrary, vape show retailers have paved the way for many users to quit cigarettes and are thus part of the solution as much as the devices themselves.

Harm reduction is not new. Many European countries already apply it in drug policy, alcohol policy or in safer sex programmes. It is true that for decades, smoking cessation tools have been on the market, including products such as nicotine patches. That said, we’ve seen that there’s only so much you can do with these tools, which is exactly why policy-makers should embrace vaping as the tobacco harm reduction tool of the future.

Originally published here

Consumer Choice Center Joins Coalition Calling on the Biden Administration’s WHO Delegation to Recognise the Value of Tobacco Harm Reduction

Dear President Biden:

In January, the White House issued a “Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking,” in which you state “[i]t is the policy of my Administration to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data,” as opposed to personal ideology. The undersigned commend this declaration and write to ensure that this science-driven decision-making extends to all areas of policymaking, even politically challenging matters such as tobacco and nicotine containing products.

Next month, a U.S. delegation will participate in the Ninth Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), commonly known as COP9. The U.S. is a signatory to the FCTC, but has never ratified the treaty, and therefore participates under Observer Status. Traditionally, the Conference of the Parties convenes every two years to discuss issues related to the implementation of the treaty and to promote strategies that allegedly advance tobacco control strategies.

Based on its own data, the WHO estimates there will be approximately 1.4 billion cigarette smokers around the world in 2025. This statistic is further illustrated by research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states that less than one in 10 cigarette smokers will successfully quit smoking each year. Notwithstanding these sobering numbers, the WHO continues to rebuff innovative, science-driven advancements in nicotine delivery that could expedite its goal of eradicating cigarette smoking.

U.S. leadership is needed at the WHO now more than ever, and this includes oversight of its tobacco control strategies. Although the FCTC recognizes three pillars of tobacco control – prevention, cessation, and harm reduction – it has done nothing to recognize the technological innovation or promote policies that advance scientifically substantiated less harmful alternatives. In contrast, the comprehensive U.S. approach to tobacco control, rooted in the bipartisan Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, and signed into law by President Obama, authorized the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop pathways to bring less harmful noncombustible products to the market for adult consumers that will otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes. While not a perfect process, the FDA has demonstrated the viability of these processes and that adult smokers deserve information about and access to less harmful products. In short, by authorizing some novel products, the FDA has affirmed its commitment to harm reduction and based these determinations on sound science as opposed to political ideology.

Society has adopted harm reduction in various aspects of our everyday lives, particularly as it relates to public health. However, there is a strong hesitancy with the WHO to accept harm reduction for tobacco, favoring instead to pursue “quit or die” policies that maintain the status quo and keep people using cigarettes.

As stated in the January memorandum, policies should be based on sound science, not autocratic regimes, personal ideology, or politics. We respectfully encourage the U.S. delegation participating in COP9 to advocate tobacco harm reduction – as clearly stated in the FCTC – as a vital component of any tobacco control strategy. This position aligns with U.S. law, FDA’s comprehensive approach, and basic common sense. Anything less is bowing to undue political pressure and fails to serve the hundreds of millions of adult smokers around the world that deserve access to better choices beyond cigarettes.

Sincerely,

Lindsey Stroud
Director, Consumer Center
Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Steve Pociask
President / CEO
American Consumer Institute

Gregory Conley
President
American Vaping Association

Amanda Wheeler
President
American Vapor Manufacturers Association

Grover Norquist
President
Americans for Tax Reform

Dave Morris
President
Arizona Smoke-Free Business Alliance

Peter J. Pitts
President
Center for Medicine in the Public Interest
Former FDA Associate Commissioner

Thomas Schatz
President
Citizens Against Government Waste

Yaël Ossowski
Deputy Director
Consumer Choice Center

Elizabeth Hicks
U.S. Affairs Analyst
Consumer Choice Center

Nick Orlando
Vice-President
Florida Smoke Free Association (FSFA)

Susan Stutzman
President
Georgia Vape Alliance (GVA)

Eric Curtis
President
Michigan Vape Shop Owners (MVSO)

Kim “Skip” Murray
Tobacco Harm Reduction Specialist MN Smoke-Free Alliance
Co-Founder, Safer Nicotine Wiki

Brandon Arnold
Executive Vice President
National Taxpayers Union

James Jarvis
President
Ohio Vapor Trade Association (OHVTA)

Mazen Saleh
Policy Director, Integrated Harm Reduction
R Street Institute

Tim Teml
President
Smoke Free Alternatives Coalition of Illinois (SFACOIL)

Casey Given
Executive Director
Young Voices

The Digital Economy Minister Crusading to Legalize Vaping in Thailand

By Yaël Ossowski

Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn

In our work promoting smart policies on harm reduction around the world, the Consumer Choice Center is often engaged in battles to stave off vaping flavor bans or tax hikes that will harm consumers and smokers looking to quit.

And while those efforts are vital to individuals moving away from tobacco in liberal democracies, there are countries outside that sphere that still maintain outright bans or harsh restrictions on vaping and harm-reducing technologies – depriving millions of a less harmful method of consuming nicotine.

That’s why political leaders like Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society, are worth highlighting.

Recently, Minister Thanakamanusorn has come out in favor of legalizing vaping in order to address the high number of smokers in Thai society. He wants to join the 67 countries around the world that have legalized vaping as a means of giving smokers an option to quit.

Speaking to the Bangkok Post, he’s become convinced of this position because he believes “vaping could be a safer choice for those struggling to quit smoking, adding there were at least 10 million smokers in the country.”

According to Public Health England, vaping products are at least 95% less harmful than combusted tobacco, and they have become integral in reducing smoking rates in developed countries like New Zealand, the UK, the United States, and Canada.

But vaping has yet to achieve significant acceptance or legality in many countries in Asia.

At present, total smoking prevalence among the Thai population hovers around 19%, and approximately 37% of all men.

As such, Thailand has long been a target of anti-smoking activists and health groups over the years to crack down on tobacco use. Both domestic and international groups have spent millions to reach the goal of achieving a total 30% relative drop in tobacco use.

One research organization at Thammasat University in Bangkok has been given grants as part of a $20 million global project by Michael Bloomberg’s charity Bloomberg Philanthropies to “monitor” tobacco regulations and push for bans on alternative technologies like vaping.

This follows Michael Bloomberg’s efforts at depriving adoption of harm-reducing nicotine products in developing countries like the Philippines, India, and others, as we have explored below:

Those funds, as well dispersed amounts from the UN’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, have been granted as a condition of certain regulations.

Thailand became the first Asian country to adopt “plain packaging” restrictions on cigarettes in 2019, and passed a harsh tobacco control measure that outright banned vaping products, restricted tobacco advertisements, and outlawed online sales.

Despite the millions spent, Minister Thanakamanusorn points out that it isn’t as effective as the activists claim, and hence he wants to look at vaping as a sustainable market alternative.

The effort to legalize vaping, however, will come with significant opposition. Both domestic doctor groups and the FCTC, as well as Bloomberg’s foundation, have put pressure on the government to enforce a continued ban on vaping products.

They are joined in their efforts by Thailand’s own state tobacco monopoly, Tobacco Authority of Thailand, which makes an annual revenue of 2 billion USD and would see a significant setback in state revenues if smokers were to switch to vaping products.

Considering the odds stacked against Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn’s vision for legalizing vaping in Thailand, it is clear that more voices will need to be heard in the debate.

Overall, we hope for a future that embraces the science of harm reduction and will allow the citizens of Thailand to use the same products that have helped millions of smokers quit in developed countries – if only the government lets them.

Yaël Ossowski (@YaelOss) is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Pentingnya Pragmatisme untuk Memerangi Rokok

Konsumsi rokok merupakan salah satau permasalahan kesehatan pubik yang besar yang saat ini melanda berbagai negara di seluruh penjuru dunia, termasuk juga Indonesia. Sudah menjadi pengetahuan umum bahwa, mengkonsumsi rokok merupakan salah satu penyebab berbagai penyakit kronis yang dialami oleh jutaan orang di seluruh dunia, seperti kanker dan penyakit jantung.

Oleh sebab itu, kebijakan untuk menanggulangi dampak dari rokok ini merupakan salah satu kebijakan yang sangat umum yang diberlakukan oleh berbagai pemerintahan di seluruh dunia. Kebijakan tersebut sangat bervariasi, mulai dari kebijakan yang cukup longgar, seperti larangan iklan, kewajiban memasang peringatan di bungkus rokok, dan larangan memasang logo, hingga kebijakan yang sangat ketat seperti larangan total konsumsi produk tembakau.

Strategi pembatasan dan pelarangan ini sekilas memang merupakan hal yang terlhat masuk akal dan bisa diterima. Bila kita ingin banyak orang untuk berhenti menggunakan produk-produk tertentu yang terbukti berbahaya misalnya, maka langkah yang dianggap tepat adalah dengan memastikan masyarakat tidak bisa mendapatkan akses terhadap barang tersebut, atau setidaknya memberi disinsentif kepada masyarakat untuk tidak mengkonsumsi produk tersebut melalui informasi di label produk.

Tetapi, bukan berarti lantas anggapan yang sekilas terlihat masuk akal tersebut merupakan sesuatu yang tepat dan sesuai dengan kenyataan. Melarang masyarakat untuk mengubah perilakunya yang berbahaya seperti mengkonsumsi rokok tidaklah semudah membalikkan telapak tangan.

Bhutan misalnya, merupakan salah satu negara yang melarang penjualan dan konsumsi rokok pada tahun 2010. Tetapi bukan berarti permasalahan konsumsi rokok di negara Himalaya tersebut menjadi selesai. Kebijakan pelarangan rokok justru memicu banyak perdagangan rokok ilegal. Pada tahun 2020, Bhutan akhirnya perlahan mulai mengizinkan warganya untuk membeli rokok melalui perusahaan yang dimiliki oleh negara untuk melawan perdagangan rokok ilegal (dfnionline.com, 7/9/2020).

Hal ini tentu bukan merupakan hal yang mengherankan untuk kita yang mengetahui sedikit sejarah mengenai kebijakan prohibisi. Berbagai kebijakan untuk melarang produk-produk yang dianggap berbahaya, seperti minuman keras dan rokok misalnya, niscaya akan berakhir pada kegagalan, sebagaimana kebijakan prohibisi minuman keras yang diberlakukan di Amerika Serikat pada dekade 1920-an. Kebijakan tersebut justru semakin memperkuat organisasi kriminal dan mafia seperti Al Capone, yang akhirnya menjadi penyedia produk ilegal tersebut.

Terkait dengan kebijakan disinsentif kepada pengguna rokok, seperti kewajiban memasang gambar dampak rokok terhadap kesehatan di bungkus rokok misalnya, keberhasilannya juga masih dipertanyakan. Deborah M. Scharf dan William G. Shadel dari Rand Corporation misalnya, menulis bahwa hampir tidak ada dampak langsung dari kewajiban pemasangan gambar tersebut dengan efek terhadap para konsumen rokok (rand.org, 30/7/2014).

Scharf dan Shadel juga menuli bahwa, ada berbagai macam faktor yang sangat kompleks yang menentukan bagaimana konsumen akan bereaksi terhadap berbagai kebijakan yang ditujukan untuk mengurangi konsumen rokok tersebut. Tidak mustahil juga bahwa, kebijakan tersebut akan membawa dampak yang berkebalikan dari tujuannya, dengan membuat para perokok merasa defensif sehingga mereka menjadi tidak memperhatikan peringatan tersebut. Berdasarkan laporan, tidak sedikit juga para perokok yang “berkreasi” dengan menutup gambar peringatan tersebut agar mereka tidak perlu melihat gambar tersebut (rand.org, 30/7/2014).

Untuk itu, dibutuhkan langkah lain bila kita ingin menanggulangi dampak dari rokok, serta mengurangi konsumsi dari produk yang berbahaya tersebut. Kita harus mampu dan berani untuk mencoba berbagai solusi lain melalui pendekatan yang pragmatis ketimbang dengan terpaku pada ide-ide tertentu yang sudah terbukti gagal.

Sejarah sudah membuktikan bahwa, praktik konsumsi produk-produk yang membahayakan bagi kesehatan tidak bisa dilakukan melalui kebijakan yang keras seperti pembatasan hingga pelarangan total. Untuk itu, cara pragmatis yang paling memungkinkan untuk menekan dampak dari konsumsi tersebut adalah apabila ada produk lain yang dapat digunakan para perokok untuk berpindah dan memiliki dampak negatif yang jauh lebih kecil.

Saat ini sudah ada beberapa produk alternatif tersebut yang bisa kita temukan dengan mudah, khususnya kita yang tinggal di kota-kota besar. Salah satu produk tersebut yang kerap digunakan sebagai cara harm reduction strategy, atau strategi untuk mengurangi dampak negatif dari rokok itu sendiri, adalah rokok elektronik, atau yang dikenal juga dengan nama vape.

Penggunaan vape sebagai bagian dari harm reduction strategy memang merupakan hal yang menimbulkan pro dan kontra, di mana tidak sedikit yang berpandangan bawah vape merupakan produk yang sama bahayanya, atau bahkan lebih berbahaya, dari rokok konvensional yang dibakar. Pandangan ini jelas adalah pandangan yang sangat keliru.

Pada tahun 2015 lalu, lembaga kesehatan publik asal Inggris, Public Health England (PHE), mengeluarkan laporan terkait dengan dampak vape terhadap kesehatan. Dalam laporan PHE tersebut, disebutkan bahwa produk vape 95% jauh lebih aman bila dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional yang dibakar (Public Health England, 19/8/2015).

Laporan ini tentu merupakan sesuatu yang sangat penting dan patut kita apresiasi. Adanya produk yang mampu menjadi alternatif rokok yang terbukti jauh lebih aman adalah berita yang sangat baik, dan memberi kesempatan bagi para perkok untuk memindahkan konsumsinya ke produk yang lebih aman.

Penggunaan vape sebagai produk alternatif dalam rangka harm reduction strategy bukanlah sesuatu yang hanya hadir di teori saja, melainkan juga sudah dipratikkan di negara lain. Inggris misalnya, mengkampayekan penggunaan vape untuk membantu para perokok menghentikan kebiasaannya yang sangat berbahaya. Kebijakan tersebut terbukti sangat sukses, dan melalui strategi harm reduction dengan menggunakan vape, 1,5 juta warga Inggris telah menghentikan kebiasaan merokoknya (consumerchoicecenter.org, 21/7/2020).

Sebagai pentutup, langkah dan strategi pragmatis merupakan hal yang sangat penting bila kita ingin mengurangi jumlah populasi perokok. Jangan sampai, kita terlalu terpaku pada ide dan pandangan tertentu, sehingga kita tetap mengimplementasikan kebijakan yang sudah terbukti gagal, sehingga tidak mampu membantu kawan-kawan kita yang perokok untuk menghentikan kebiasaannya yang sangat berbahaya.

Originally published here

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