Two weeks ago we hosted a workshop on tobacco harm reduction. We discussed the evidence that shows innovative nicotine alternative products, such as tobacco-free pouches and e-cigarettes, can deliver nicotine with a drastically reduced toxicant profile compared to traditional tobacco products.

The workshop was a discussion and networking platform designated to facilitate exchange of ideas among health practitioners, policy makers, academics, consumers, advocates and media from across the country. Participants got to receive K.A.C’s Tobacco harm reduction and right to Health report, which was handed to them after the event.

The workshop is timely, we are hopeful that it will spark a conversation on why Kenya has little to no available smoking cessation services, which beg the question; can the country be 100% smoke-free in our lifetime? As the rest of the world continues to reap the benefits of safer alternatives, most medical practitioners and policymakers in Kenya haven’t got the slightest idea of what the concept of tobacco harm reduction is.

Not only are alternative nicotine products effective, they are also cost-effective for the government. The state pays nothing when an adult smoker switches to alternative nicotine products. Compare this with costly state-run programs. Meanwhile, by helping smokers quit, nicotine alternative products help ease the disease burden of smoking and the associated costs to the state.

Nicotine is not carcinogenic, it does not cause cancer! You’ll 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 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.

It’s the burning which causes the harm. Consuming nicotine without any burning is same like getting a caffeine rush from drinking hot coffee. Most research points to cigarette smoke, not nicotine, as being the primary contributor to cancer among smokers. The W.H.O understands this, so much so that they recommend nicotine patches for smokers looking to quit smoking.

Traditional measures to reduce smoking rates, such as increasing taxes, banning advertising and restricting smoking in public areas, have reduced tobacco use in Kenya by only a single percentage point in the four years to 2016.We need a change in approach.

Alternative nicotine products represent a genuine route to a smoke-free future that has been proven to work in countries that have embraced these products.