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Public health protection requires pragmatic and science-based strategies

A round table discussion on ‘Policy for Progress: Towards Harm Reduction’ was organized at a hotel in the capital. Photo: Collected

Sectoral experts and policy makers believe that practical and scientific methods of tobacco harm reduction should be adopted to protect public health. The speakers highlighted these facts in the round table discussion ‘Policy for Progress: Towards Harm Reduction’ organized at a hotel in the capital.

The event was organized by policy research institute Policy Exchange Bangladesh. In the discussion, they emphasized on bringing about effective and sustainable change in the public health sector by adopting innovative strategies to quit smoking.

Policy makers and experts from domestic and foreign industry, education and health sectors were present in the discussion.

Speakers at the event said Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) is a public health strategy; The aim of which is to reduce the health risks caused by the use of conventional tobacco products and to ensure the use of less harmful alternatives to reduce the health risks. According to the harm reduction concept, complete smoking cessation is an aspirational goal, but cannot be achieved suddenly. This is a long-term process and requires public-private sector coordination.

In that case, gradually quitting smoking by adopting less harmful alternatives is an effective method. Multiple scientific studies have highlighted the positive aspects of THR. Several countries, including the UK and New Zealand, have reduced health risks by adopting THR.

Dr. Cardiologist and Research Fellow of the Department of Pharmacy, University of Patras, Greece. Constantinos Farsalinos said, ‘Smoking harm reduction should be supported by vaping and other quitting tools.

Using less harmful alternatives will reduce the loss rate. At the same time, scientific and realistic decisions on a revolutionary technology such as vaping have the potential to greatly benefit public health safety.

Former Vice-Chancellor Professor Dr. Bangladesh Agricultural University. Lutful Hasan said, ‘It is very difficult to give up a long-standing habit. Especially the habit of smoking cannot be stopped suddenly. With the help of quit products (quitting tools) addiction can be gradually given up completely.

He also said, ‘THR is very important for Bangladesh. Policy makers need to consider this issue.’

Speakers believe that vaping can play a role in increasing revenue in addition to health protection. Bringing it into a systematic framework can emerge as a new source of revenue. Abdul Mannan Shikder, a former member of the National Board of Revenue, said, ‘If the smoking rate is reduced, the medical expenses due to smoking will also be reduced. Besides, by implementing the THR strategy, revenue can also be increased.’ He said, ‘THR needs to be brought under regulation. Talk to the stakeholders about this.’

According to the speakers, practical steps are necessary in formulating economic, commercial and social policies to maintain the ongoing progress of the country and face future challenges. Harm reduction aids can be adopted through appropriate regulatory frameworks rather than banning them. On the one hand, millions of smokers will be encouraged to quit cigarettes, as well as a new sector of revenue will be created.

In this regard, Policy Exchange Bangladesh’s advisor Asif Ibrahim said, ‘United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sweden and some countries have taken realistic plans to reduce the smoking rate. Rational steps have been taken to prioritize scientific research, which has benefited these countries. Bangladesh should take these examples into consideration to improve public health. It is important to keep these aspects of the health ministry and other important ministries in consideration especially in policy formulation.