Smoking prevalence decline in low-income countries threatened

February 8, 2024 People's Journal 136 views

PANAMA CITY—Policy interventions from funded groups in lower and middle-income countries such as Mexico, India, Kenya, and Pakistan, including efforts to block essential legislation in the Philippines, are allegedly undermining efforts to lower smoking prevalence and belittling harm reduction as a public health strategy.

This was aired by Dr. Roberto Sussman, a senior researcher at the Institute of Nuclear Sciences at the National University of Mexico, during the “GOOD COP/BAD COP” event at the sidelines of the ongoing Word Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting, where harm reduction advocates have tried to participate to no avail.

The event saw leading voices on consumer issues, national and global policies, and harm reduction representing 14 countries come together to discuss relevant tobacco control issues.
Tobacco harm reduction advocates exposed the significant sway of non-governmental organizations in intervening in smoking cessation strategies in low- and middle-income countries.

“I do think it’s sickening that so many people in these countries are being deprived of their best chance to quit cigarettes,” Will Godfrey, executive director of FILTER, a group advocating for rational and compassionate approaches to drug policy and human rights, said.

Godfrey added that funding was disrupting smoking cessation efforts in low- and middle-income countries with high smoking rates, where money could buy more influence.

Tomás O’Gorman, co-founder of Pro-Vapeo Mexico, noted the stagnation of smoking rates in Mexico in the absence of harm reduction practices.

O’Gorman noted that the Mexican president even proposed an amendment to the Mexican Constitution to ban the commercialization of vaping products.

“There have been several indications that foreign NGOs are the ones dictating how Mexico should proceed regarding the regulation of these products,” O’Gorman said. “I believe that Mexico is following the suggestions and the policies that have been created by these foreign entities to ban vaping and THR products in LMICs.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Rohan Andrede de Sequeira, a professor of Medicine in India, criticized the pressure from organizations to reject harm reduction principles, emphasizing the urgent need for India to make its own decisions regarding tobacco control.

“So if any country practically needs a THR policy, it would be India because this is where it would have the biggest impact,” he said. “What is really needed right now is for the country to make its own decision rather than be bullied by some major organizations. They need to look at their own population.”

Jeannie Cameron, CEO of UK-based strategic advocacy group JCIC International, said that in the Philippines, groups were caught trying to influence government policy during the enactment of the Vape Law.

Martin Cullip, an international fellow at TPA’s Consumer Center, criticized groups for their efforts to restrict nicotine pouches in markets with heavy smoking rates such as Kenya and Pakistan, labeling such actions as detrimental to public health and driven by ideology.

“These seem to me very good markets for nicotine pouches because they’re low cost and they can get in places where there’s heavy smoking rates, and yet they seem to be trying to damage the potential market in Pakistan and Kenya and trying to get the government to kick those products out and prohibit them, which is so anti-public health. This is ideological and it is damaging,” said Cullip.

An article published by The Lancet authored by Robert Beaglehole and Ruth Bonita, one of the oldest peer-reviewed medical journals, stated that tobacco harm reduction should be a central strategy of the WHO FCTC in addition to the measures for demand and supply reduction which are necessary but not sufficient.