International Association on Smoking Control & Harm-Reduction is Founded

Prof Solly Rataemane
Prof Solly Rataemane

An International Association on Smoking Control & Harm Reduction (SCOHRE) has been founded with the aim to work for the benefit of smokers and for better health for all.

The mission of SCOHRE is to drive an open and constructive dialogue to help come up with a new broader approach to smoking control policies. The association is made up of 22 founding members from 16 countries including South Africa.

Eight million people die prematurely every year from smoking-related diseases despite all efforts to control the smoking habit. We know the harmful health effects of smoking for decades, but still more than 1 billion people globally smoke and the total number of smokers is still growing, this according to members of SCOHRE.

In the EU alone, tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of cancer mortality, with 27% of all cancer deaths linked to smoking. If we eliminate the use of smoking, we may even be able to avoid as much as 90% of all lung cancers. Is smoking cessation the only way? It is surely the absolute best way, if, and when it works.

There is a need to step up the efforts and benefit from the already existing solid expertise in many countries. This is the reason for the establishment of SCOHRE, which includes independent experts on smoking control and harm reduction including scientists from all sectors, medical doctors, policy experts, behavioural experts, academics, and professionals.

Prof Solly Rataemane, Professor of Psychiatry at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (2003-2019) and Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Mental Health in South Africa is among the founding members.

“Harm reduction is powerful public health strategy,” says South African SCOHRE representative, Prof Rataemane. “It applies to areas where there is a need to reduce harm associated with a practice or use of a substance that is overused in society leading to increased morbidity and mortality. It is the future for tobacco harm reduction.”

“Smoking cessation and prevention remain the most impactful and cost-effective interventions in medicine and we have the obligation to continue our hard work to raise awareness to every smoker and the public about the adverse effects of smoking,” he explains. “However, smoking cessation is not the only option for smokers.”

Scientists from around the globe believe that smoking control strategies should be reshaped to include harm reduction using alternative, potentially lower risk, products, in addition to other traditional smoking cessation and smoking prevention measures.

SCOHRE is founded to serve this purpose. It is founded to work for the benefit of smokers and their families and as a matter of fact for better health for all.

There is growing interest among experts in novel approaches towards tobacco control and there is an ongoing discussion that limiting the negative effects of smoking can be also achieved by tobacco harm reduction.

There is evidence that the use of potentially less harmful alternatives than cigarettes, i.e. reduced risk products, for those smokers who are not willing or cannot give up smoking with currently approved methods, may be a solution, not necessarily the best for everyone but by far better than continuous smoking.

Where cessation repeatedly fails, switching to less harmful products is expected to result in benefits for many smokers. Nicotine has an addictive potential but plays a minor role in smoking related mortality.

In the last few years, more regulatory authorities are considering allowing the sales of alternative potentially lower risk tobacco products with accurate information. Yet, we need to acknowledge that the tobacco harm reduction debate is still at an early stage and more research and publications are needed to raise awareness on existing knowledge, generate more data and create more opportunities for education of health policy experts, regulators and general public.

These are necessary steps to properly explore the benefits of this approach, while also appropriately addressing the concerns such as continuous use of, and dependence on, nicotine as well as the potential adoption of use by never smokers and youth.

We also need to acknowledge that the debate on tobacco harm reduction is still facing a lot of opposition. We need to establish a constructive dialogue to discuss concerns and challenges.

SCOHRE will receive no funding, directly or indirectly from the tobacco industry.