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The raging debate on e-cigarettes; is Africa missing out? » Capital News




Debate is raging globally around smoke-free alternatives, such as e-cigarettes, which are being presented by tobacco companies as safer options for smokers.

On one hand, cigarette manufacturers offer these alternatives as less risky, scientifically cleared substitutes with potential to cut well-documented health effects of consuming tobacco and nicotine. On the other hand, anti-tobacco activists favour a campaign that advocates for total cessation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the safest approach is to use neither conventional nor e-cigarettes.

in the crosshairs are smokers, estimated at about 1 billion globally, according
to WHO statistics.

smoking is recognized as a global public health issue, is not in dispute. It
has been linked to heart and respiratory diseases, as well as enhanced risk of
lung cancer. It is in addressing this challenge that the two camps’ opinions differ

Morris International is a vocal proponent of safer alternatives. The firm has proactively
committed to a ‘smoke-free future in the tobacco industry’ with a plan to stop
manufacturing tobacco by the year 2030 and instead promote less harmful
alternatives. “Over the last decade, we’ve spent more than USD 7 billion in
research, product and commercial development, production capacity, scientific
substantiation and studies on adult smoker understanding. We want to switch at
least 40 million men and women who would otherwise continue to smoke to our
smoke-free products by 2025” argues Dr. Moira Gilchrist, Philip Morris
International’s Vice President of Strategic and Scientific Communications.

Gilchrist cites the Japan case, where a drop in cigarette sales can be linked
to introduction of heated tobacco product that contains natural tobacco and
nicotine and produces steam instead of smoke. The product that is already
available in 52 markets globally has seen 10 million smokers switch to it.

American Tobacco has also announced plans to invest in a plant to manufacture
nicotine pouches for the Kenyan market, in an effort to reduce smoking-related

there has been no conclusive study disputing the safety of smoke-free devices.
The closest was research by University of California’s scientists Stanton
Glantz and Dharma Bhatta which concluded that conventional cigarettes and
vapers carried similar risk, with increased likelihood of a heart attack when
both are used.

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study was later retracted by the Journal of American Heart Association, where
it had been published, on account of ‘misleading data’ that did not consider
some information on tobacco and health from a relevant population assessment
survey. The retraction followed sustained pressure by various scientists and
academics, disputing the findings, even after it became a major news item.  


editors are concerned that the study conclusion is unreliable. The editors
hereby retract the article from publication in Journal of the American Heart
Association,” read the journal’s statement retracting the study.

can try to learn from this, and it takes several forms. For researchers and the
people who fund and publish research, it means not just doing more research,
but doing good research, subject to rigorous, critical review. It also means
doing open research; it is possible that if the initial data was publicly
available, the flawed analysis may not have made it to publication in the first
place. It means being aware of ‘hot stuff bias,’ where topics that get a lot of
media attention attract more bad science than those that are less on the radar”,
stated Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, senior researcher, health behaviors, at University
of Oxford.

safety of e-cigarettes, WHO says that while it is still too early to understand
long term effects of use or exposure, non-smoking consumers who use them have
double chance of smoking conventional cigarettes.

manufacturers disagree, insisting that whatever decision is taken should not
only be based on sound science that stresses harm reduction, but also be
people-centric, considering adult smokers’ preferences. They counsel that
smokers’ decisions need to be guided by information.

best choice is to quit altogether, but every adult smoker in the world who does
not, should have access to accurate information on significantly less harmful alternatives,”
explains Dr Gilchrist, arguing that smoke-free products are not entirely
risk-free, since they contain nicotine, which is addictive but is not the
primary cause of smoking-related disease.

this debate rages, Africa is struggling with steadily rising cases of
non-communicable diseases,
some related to tobacco smoking. Yet, in many countries, there are many deaths
from preventable diseases. While it complicates choices for the government, it
also makes a case for prioritizing focus to ensure investment in healthcare
infrastructure and disease management.

Mr Nyauchi is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya

Email: [email protected]

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