Tobacco harm reduction and human rights

Cigarettes are smoked by over 1 billion people, which is nearly 20% of the world’s population . Smoking increases your risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions,some may be fatal, and others can cause irreversible long-term damage to your health.Repressive tobacco control policies and practices create and exacerbate the harms associated with smoking. One of the barriers to smoking cessation via product switching is misinformation about nicotine products. Cigarette smokers can benefit from safer nicotine products even before abstaining from nicotine use, and the denial of access to these products makes them more vulnerable to a range of health and social problems.

Many people mistakenly believe that nicotine is the main cause of smoking-related cancers.Tobacco harm reduction refers to policies, programs, and practices aimed at reducing smoking-related risks and harms by advancing the health and human rights of people smoke .The defining features are the focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of nicotine use itself, and the focus on people who continue to smoke .This approach recognizes that smokers unable or unwilling to abstain from smoking can still make positive choices to protect their own health in addition to the health of their families and communities.Tobacco harm reduction thus seeks to create an enabling environment for smokers ,to protect their health and other human rights by providing them with evidence-based information and products.

Tobacco harm reduction interventions are most effective when they meet smokers where they are, rather than requiring them to undergo many complicated steps and behavioural changes before they receive help. Keeping smokers alive and preventing irreparable damage is regarded as the most urgent priority. Human rights were established to protect fundamental values such as the ability to live, have a family and be free from cruel treatment. The human right to life is a fundamental right recognized in UDHR article 3, ICCPR article 6 and for children in CRC article 6. The human right to health is recognized in ICESCR article 12. The current approach to global tobacco control fuels widespread human rights violations against people who smoke. Human rights apply to everyone. People who smoke do not forfeit their human rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Harm reduction opposes the deliberate hurts and harms inflicted on people who smoke cigarettes in the name of tobacco control and drug prevention and promotes responses to nicotine addiction that respect and protect fundamental human rights.

It’s important to remember that smokers have rights too. The have a right to accurate information on safer nicotine alternatives and they have a right to access safer nicotine products. Smokers most certainly have the right to decide how they will consume tobacco or nicotine, and it is my contention that offering good alternative products is the right way to go about changing consumer attitudes. Tobacco harm reduction can be a complement to, not a substitute for, evidenced-based tobacco control interventions. Tobacco control professionals need to focus on objective assessment of and discussion about the potential costs and benefits of harm reduction.



Avid Tobacco Harm Reductionist

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