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Health policy experts ask regulators to ease rules on smoke-free nicotine products

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Public health experts have gathered in Melbourne, Australia to urge international health bodies and government regulators to ease the restrictive rules against non-combustible, smoke-free nicotine products that are regarded as much safer alternatives to cigarette smoking.

“We have the evidence that harm reduction products—snus, vapes and heat-not-burn tobacco are at least 90-percent safer,” Dr. Colin Mendelsohn, a tobacco treatment specialist and conjoint associate professor in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales said during the 9th International City Health Conference held in Melbourne on October 3 to 4.

The Progressive Public Health Alliance, a group of health professionals, researchers and public health advocates, organized the conference that has a focus on urban health and harm reduction in all its forms.

Harm reduction refers to an approach designed to reduce the negative impact associated with a practice such as cigarette smoking.  Such an approach is being opposed by people who feel they have an obligation to defend their moralistic views.

Participants in the conference also urged the public not to be swayed by the recent hysteria against vaping, saying non-combustible, smoke-free nicotine products from reputable suppliers are always safer than smoking.

While there were recent reports of an outbreak of vaping-related illnesses in the US, the United Kingdom which has the most advanced regulation on electronic-cigarettes has not recorded any vaping-related deaths so far.

Public Health England reported in 2015 that the use of electronic cigarettes was 95-percent less harmful than cigarette smoking.  The US outbreak is now being investigated for the possible use of illicit vaping liquids or THC containing liquids. 

Public health advocates in Melbourne said the US issue should not grab the attention away from the much greater harm caused by cigarette smoking.  “Tobacco smoking kills 19,000 people in Australia every year,” Mendelsohn said.  

Globally, 20,000 smokers die of cancer and other related illnesses each day, translating into a death every 4.5 seconds.

Mendelsohn said that unfortunately, the rate of decline in smoking rate in Australia has stagnated over the past six years because of the government's ban on harm reduction products.  

“Harm reduction products are safer. We are the only western democracy to ban them,” said Mendelsohn.

“We know there are three types of tobacco harm reduction—snus which had a huge success in Scandinavia, vaping and heat-not-burn products. These are different options, all of which are effectively illegal in Australia,” he said.

Health advocates noted that countries that allow harm reduction products have experienced a rapid decline in smoking rate.  

Japan, for example, saw a third of its cigarette market disappear since heated tobacco products such as IQOS was introduced in 2014. 

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