Did you know that harm from smoking is caused by chemicals released due to combustion, and not nicotine? Did you also know that nicotine is not carcinogenic?
You will be surprised to know that nicotine doesn’t cause smoking-related diseases, such as cancers and heart disease. Cigarette smoking and the many chemicals it exposes a person to, not nicotine itself, presents the highest risk.
According to Cancer Research UK, nicotine is addictive but does not cause cancer. Most damage to health caused by smoking is due to tar. Researchers from the U.K. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) stated that “…it is primarily the toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke — not the nicotine — that cause illness and death.”
In fact, other chemicals in smoke, such as benzo[a]pyrene, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, and benzene, are the primary causes of smoking-related diseases. The World Health Organization understands this fact, this is why they advise smokers to use nicotine patches and gum in their journey to quit smoking.
Despite the numerous efforts to get people to quit smoking cigarettes, there are still millions of Kenyans who chose to smoke, and the reality is that there are millions of smokers today that enjoy consuming nicotine, whether we approve of the method they chose (smoking) or not.
Today Kenya has more than 3 million smokers, with 8,000 of them dying every year from smoking-related diseases. England on the other hand has an ambitious plan to eradicate smoking by 2030 as their government tries to emulate Sweden in eradicating smoking altogether. They plan to do so by encouraging safer alternatives to cigarettes. The UK views e-cigarettes as important replacement therapy for smokers.
Sweden’s National smoking rate is at 5%. We can learn from Sweden’s success in cutting the national smoking rate — the biggest lesson being tobacco harm reduction,” not prohibition, could make for the greatest leaps forward in public health. Sweden has one of the most effective antismoking policies in Europe, measured by the significant reduction of the numbers of smokers.
In virtually all developed countries, cigarette smoking has been the dominant form of tobacco consumption for over 100 years. Sweden is a remarkable exception, lighting the way to a smoke-free world. Snus has been popular in Scandinavia for two centuries and in the past thirty years has led to mass abstinence from cigarettes in Sweden.
The Swedish government has released data showing that the proportion of men aged between 30 and 44 smoking fell to just 5 percent in 2016. Overall, just 8 percent of Swedish men now smoke on a daily basis – itself a record-low percentage – compared with a European Union average of just over 25 percent.
Today, Kenya has the opportunity to emulate Sweden by promoting safer nicotine alternatives for smokers looking to quit or continue using nicotine, but in a much safer form. Tobacco-free nicotine pouches are used in the same way as Swedish snus.
They come in the form of a pouch similar to a mini teabag and generally contain water, flavors, nicotine, and plant-based fibers. The user places a pouch between the upper lip and gum and leaves it there while the nicotine and taste is being released.
Nicotine from a nicotine pouch is slowly absorbed through the lining of the mouth, delivering nicotine levels similar to the levels from smoking.
A lot of people assume that since combustible cigarettes, Snus and nicotine pouches contain nicotine, they must be equally harmful to one’s health. This is, however, is not the case. A World Health Organization (WHO) analysis of previous research argues that snus is unlikely to cause oral or gastric cancer. As a result of this research, the WHO suggests that snus may be an important method of harm reduction.
Since a significant body of scientific evidence now clearly shows that the health risks associated with snus use are significantly lower than those associated with cigarette smoking, it’s time our Government leverage this alternative in the fight against smoking. Africa is the only continent witnessing a rise in smoking which is partly accelerated by an unwillingness to integrate harm reduction in our fight against smoking. Sweden did it and succeeded, why can’t we?
The benefit of using nicotine pouches is that the same amount of nicotine can be consumed without exposing the airways to carbon monoxide which can cause lung cancer. Sweden’s snus experience provides a useful conceptual demonstration of the potential benefits of a harm reduction approach that is integrated as part of an overall approach to prevent tobacco use and offer greater access to treatment for dependence.
It exemplifies harm reduction: consumers making rational choices to use smokeless instead of cigarettes, based on accurate perceptions and preferences. If replicated, nicotine pouches can play a major role in ending smoking in Kenya, by offering smokers a safer alternative to cigarettes.
By Joseph Magero,
Chair: Campaign for Safer Alternatives