Media have a critical role to play in accelerating Harm Reduction efforts by informing and sensitizing cįgarette smokers on the availability and benefits of alternative, potentially lower-risk products to cigarettes.
Traditional cessation and smokįng prevention norms are not the only ways that smokers who cannot or do not want to quit can make healthier choices that cause less harm to themselves and those around them. This was said during the 2nd Harm Reduction Exchange conference for African journalists held in Nairobi, Kenya.
Speaking at the Harm Reduction Exchange Conference, Integra Africa Principal Dr Tendai Mhizha emphasized the role that journalists and media houses should play in handling misinformation and disįnformation in tobàcco harm reduction discourse that is actually perpetuating the dęath and dįsease caused by people continuing to smoke combustible cigarettes.
“There has been a lot of disinformation surrounding the topic of nicotįne and the alleged negative effects that e-cigarettes have on public health. This has led to policies that disfavour risk reduces products and narratives that completely deny their benefits. The media have the difficult responsibility to curb the scourge of disinformation and misinformation on harm reduction just like on other socio-political stances that are prescriptive and do not uphold consumers’ right to healthier lifestyle choices,” Dr Mhizha said.
The Harm Reduction Exchange cast a spotlight on alternative ways to reduce harm among tobàcco smokers. Held under the theme Harm Reduction: Making a difference in Africa, the conference focused on the progress being made through harm reduction strategies in all fields related to public health such as drųg and alcohol àbuse, excessive sugar consumption, skin lightening and other àddictive and behavioural practices. A wide array of harm reduction strategies and initiatives that are deployed towards reducing unnecessary deàths through non-communicable diseàses were presented and discussed.
On his part, Prof. Abdoul Kassé, an Oncologist and a Professor of Surgery at the Càncer Institute in Senegal said that Harm Reduction is a powerful public health tool that has the potential to reduce càncer by 30% and should be at the centre of all public health development strategies.
Harm reduction, he said, has already benefited many people in public health and is the most viable alternative to tobàcco control. It applies to areas where there is a need to reduce the harm associated with a practice or consumption of a substance that is overused in society leading to increased morbidity and mortality.
“Innovative Harm Reduction initiatives will help to keep more Africans alive. Tobàcco Harm Reduction initiatives, including the use of popular e-cigarettes, nicotįne patches and chewing gums, have continued to generate a lot of misunderstanding in both the public health community and in the media. However, there is evidence that the use of potentially less harmful alternatives than cįgarettes for those who are not willing or cannot give up smokįng with currently approved methods may be a solution, not necessarily the best for everyone but by far better than continuous smokįng. Where cessation repeatedly fails, switching to less harmful products is expected to result in benefits for many smokers,” Prof. Abdoul Kassé said.
Similarly, views were expressed by Kenya’s Dr Vivian Manyeki who said tobàcco Harm Reduction has a solid scientific and medical basis, and it has a lot of promise as a public health measure to assist millions of smokers.
“Many smokers are unable, or at least unwilling, to achieve cessation through complete nicotine and tobàcco abstinence. They continue smokįng despite the very real and obvious adverse health consequences and against the multiple public health campaigns. Conventional smokįng cessation proposals should be complemented with alternative but more realistic options through Harm Reduction,” Dr Manyeki said.
Tobàcco Harm Reduction was introduced to mitigate the damage caused by cįgarette smokįng—the most dangerous form of tobàcco use, and the leading cause of preventable dįseases, including cardiovascular dįsease, lung càncer, and chronįc obstructive pulmonary dįsease.
“Nicotine has an addictive potential but plays a minor role in smoking-related morbidity and mortality. Across the world, there is growing interest among experts in novel approaches towards tobacco control and there is an ongoing discussion that reducing the negative effects of smoking can be also achieved by tobacco harm reduction,” Dr Kgosi Letlape, an ophthalmologist and President of Africa Medical Association and the president of the Association of Medical Councils of Africa, said.
Tobàcco cessation is a key factor in the prevention of cardiovascular diseàses and càncer. Abstinence from tobàcco smokįng is one of the primary goals for health promotion and management globally but it is unachievable in a huge amount of cases. This task remains unaccomplished despite extensive public campaigns on the health dangers of tobàcco smokįng. Thus, the development of novel strategies to reduce smokįng is imperative.
Moreover, the use of innovations in smokįng products has been currently adopted by several smokers to reduce the health risks of smokįng.
“The Harm Reduction approach prevents drųg-related deàths and ovęrdose fatàlities and is the only way out for àddicts. In the same way these alternative technologies can reduce tobàcco harm and accelerate the journey to a smoke-free world as they reduce exposure to toxicants,” Bernice Apondi, A Policy Manager at Voices of Community Action and Leadership Kenya (VOCAL-Kenya), said.
During the Harm Reduction Exchange, journalists drawn from Southern, West and East African countries, including Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Eswatini, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe debated and set forth several resolutions in regards to the present and future as well as the challenges and progress made in Harm Reduction, and science-led regulation.
The Harm Reduction Exchange brought together high-level policymakers, physicians, scientists and health policy experts with media stakeholders from Africa in a lively mix of speeches, presentations, and panel discussions. The keynote speakers included Prof Abdoul Aziz Kasse, Ms Bernice Opondi, Joseph Magero, Jonathan Fell, Chimwemwe Ngoma, Clive Bates, Dr Kgosi Letlape, Dr Vivian Manyeki and Dr Tendai Mhizha.