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4 Misconceptions of Harm Reduction That Are Stopping M’sia From Becoming a Smoke-Free Nation

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Source: Yaroslav Litun & Freepik

When it comes to tobacco harm reduction (THR) products, there is a huge debate around their efficacy. Some believe that they can help smokers to reduce their tobacco intake and eventually quit. While others believe that they are creating more harm than good. Do you wonder which is true?

Unfortunately, though THR products are available here, Malaysians are not well-informed about them as the products are quite new in the market. Lack of exposure to the products has caused some misconceptions to spread among Malaysians. These misconceptions can do some real damage by hindering smokers from switching to a reduced-risk option and slowing our nation’s progress in curbing our country’s smoking problem. To prevent that from happening, we are here to clear up the misunderstandings and share some facts!

 

1. Misconception: The wide variety of THR products will be too addictive for smokers to quit for good.

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The truth is: As we already know, we can see an abundance of cigarettes in the market. This means that smokers are already used to having various options. Thus, to convince them to switch to a reduced-risk option such as THR products, it only makes sense that we also need a wide variety of THR products.

As shared by Mathias Beutler (VP of Product Category Management Heat-not-Burn at Philip Morris International (PMI)) during the PMI Open Science event in December 2022, he mentioned that “If we really want to move these one billion adult smokers to better alternatives, we need to cater to their different needs” and this can include having different flavours of e-cigarettes or different forms of THR products ranging from inhalable (vape, IQOS, etc) to non-inhalable (nicotine gum, pouch, etc) products. If there is not enough variety of products in the market, there is a risk that smokers can relapse and go back to cigarettes because they couldn’t find a product that suits them.

 

2. Misconception: There is still nicotine present in THR which means it’s still not safe.

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The truth is: Experts admit that THR is indeed not risk-free but they do present significantly fewer harmful toxicants in them. For example, in a presentation shared by Ignacio Gonzalez Suarez, the Head of Scientific Engagement at PMI, studies have confirmed that IQOS can reduce the formation of harmful chemicals by up to 95%. Apart from that, as presented by Mathias, nicotine is still present in THR products because of its addictive nature. Thus, it is used as a motivation for smokers to switch completely to these products.

Furthermore, Nicotine is also proven to NOT be the main cause of smoke-related diseases. Instead, what truly causes these diseases is the exposure to harmful chemicals that are generated when tobacco is burned. This is why most THR products do not use any form of combustion to get the product to work.

 

3. Misconception: THR products are just delaying smokers from quitting. It’s better to quit cold turkey!

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The truth is: Let’s be real, you’ve probably heard a non-smoker friend say “just quit cold turkey lah, how hard can it be?!” before, right? Unfortunately, this is a lot easier said than done. Studies have shown that 95% of smokers who try quitting cold turkey will likely relapse. This is why THR products are needed to assist these smokers to switch to a reduced-risk option and eventually, quit smoking for good.

For instance, if we look at statistics shared by PMI, they shared that over 13 million of their users have successfully switched completely to IQOS (which is also the highest conversion rate in the industry, btw!) and stopped smoking. This means that all of these users have successfully reduced the risk of contracting smoke-related diseases by up to 95%, which is a huge difference compared to the risk of continued smoking.

 

4. Misconception: Vape is not yet regulated in Malaysia so smokers don’t have any other less risky alternatives. 

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The truth is: Although vape products are indeed not yet regulated in Malaysia, that is not the only choice available to local smokers. There are other THR products such as IQOS and Snus that can provide a less risky alternative. Other than that, Malaysians also have access to nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products in the market (such as nicotine gum, patch or inhaler) which are available to be purchased in any pharmacy or clinic. What Malaysians truly lack is education and awareness of these products, which is why not many smokers have successfully made the switch. 

 

From these points, we can see that misinformation can do a lot of damage to the public, especially in terms of educating adult smokers in our population. Though we may have to wait for our authorities to tackle this issue to see some big changes in our country, there are still little steps that we can take to make changes around us, such as:

  • Sharing informational articles regarding THR products (like this one!) with your loved ones who are still smoking so that they can make an informed decision to switch. 
  • Calling out any misinformation when you see it being shared whether it be a malicious article on social media or even false info being forwarded by your auntie in your family chat groups. 
  • Urging your local policymakers to push for more THR products to be regulated so that smokers can have better access to them.

 

We hope that we’ve managed to educate you on the topic of THR and clear up any misinformation that has been floating around!

Source: freepik
Source: AndreyPopov

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