Tobacco harm reduction is not only a potentially life-saving public health intervention for the world’s 1.1 billion smokers, it is also supported by international human rights law, according to the latest publication launched yesterday by Knowledge·Action·Change (K·A·C).
Titled “The right to health and the right to tobacco harm reduction”, it is the sixth in a series of Briefing Papers produced by the UK-based public health agency as part of its Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction project.
The paper recommends that tobacco harm reduction should be promoted as a health rights issue by the advocacy organisations that represent the people directly affected by its absence – those who use nicotine.
It argues that a human rights approach could offer significant opportunities to challenge the bad laws and policies across the world that currently prohibit, or restrict access to, the safer nicotine products that underpin tobacco harm reduction, such as vapes (e-cigarettes), Swedish-style snus, heated tobacco products and nicotine pouches.
Vapes, judged by Public Health England to be 95% safer than combustible cigarettes, are currently banned in 36 countries including Brazil, India and Mexico and snus cannot be sold in the EU despite the fact its popularity in Scandinavia has resulted in Europe’s lowest rates of both smoking and smoking-related diseases.
From the early 2000s, human rights organisations campaigned to establish that harm reduction was a fundamental aspect of the right to health.
This approach was referenced by then UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover, in his report to the UN General Assembly in August 2010 where he set out the principles for a healthbased approach to drug control. It stated that “the enjoyment of the right to health of all people who use drugs – and are dependent on drugs – is applicable irrespective of the fact of their drug use”.
In contrast, the briefing paper says there was a lack of consideration of human rights issues in the drafting of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international treaty negotiated through the World Health Organization (WHO) that came into force in 2005 in response to the global nature of the public health crisis caused by tobacco use and smoking.