Understanding Harm Reduction


Harm reduction refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim to minimise negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws. In the context of nicotine consumption, harm reduction means giving consumers options to safely — or at least less harmfully — consume nicotine or even reduce their intake to eventually quit altogether. 

Over the past 15 years, we have witnessed the emergence of many harm reduction technologies in the field of nicotine consumption: electronic cigarettes (Vaping), devices that heat the tobacco but do not burn it (Heat-not-burn), wet tobacco (Snus), and nicotine pouches (Swedish pouches) that contain no tobacco at all.

However, some or even all these products are banned in many countries around the world, and in the ones where they are regulated they have suffered huge scrutiny by policymakers and health bureaucrats that completely ignore the science.

Harm reduction is grounded in justice and human rights. Equally important it’s a consumer right, more specifically the right to choose less harmful alternatives that will ultimately lead them to live a better, healthier, and more productive life.

Our research shows that almost 200 million lives worldwide could be saved if countries were to implement progressive harm reduction policies similar to the ones in the United Kingdom. So in this infographic, we aim to highlight the difference between harm reduction products in the field of nicotine consumption. For more information about the war on nicotine, please see our paper 6 Reasons to Stop the War on Nicotine.

What is nicotine and where does it come from?

Nicotine is an alkaloid that is more commonly found in tobacco, but also in other members of the nightshade family including:





Although often associated with tobacco and cigarettes, nicotine consumption alone is not thought to be the cause of smoking-related health problems and diseases.

Smoking is one of the leading causes of illness and death in the world. More than eight million people die each year due to smoking, with almost 99% of tobacco-related deaths caused by smoking — not from other forms of nicotine consumption. 

Common ways to consume nicotine:


Tobacco Burning









The nicotine found in tobacco-free products is directly extracted from the tobacco plant. Through this process, all traces of tobacco are removed, but the nicotine remains. This is what we refer to as freebase nicotine. In many nicotine alternatives such as gum, lozenges and pouches, freebase nicotine is the main ingredient, made into a simple solution with vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol.

In the average dosage in vaping or other harm reduction products, nicotine mimics some effects of an endogenous substance (acetylcholine) and thereby activates nerve cells in the brain and in the autonomic nervous system.