Consider tobacco harm reduction method for smoking cessation

QUIT smoking the ‘cold turkey’ is an ideal yet is an extremely difficult way to do it.

In this regard, the Malaysian Government should consider supporting a tobacco harm reduction programme aimed at getting people to switch to less harmful alternatives with the intention to quit smoking altogether.

“Most smokers who have tried to quit have attempted the cold turkey method at some point,” commented Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM) president Dr Steven Chow. “However, as a method for long term smoking cessation, it has the lowest success rate.”

According to Dr Chow, the latest official data from the Health Ministry (MOH) finds smoking prevalence in Malaysia at 21.3% or 4.9 million Malaysians in 2019. The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 further found that adults smoking prevalence in Malaysia has plateaued for more than a decade.

“Statistics have shown us that reduction in smoking prevalence have not been very successful despite the numerous stringent controls put in place over the past decade,” he observed. “Therefore, public health officials need to evaluate new strategies instead of just implementing more controls on tobacco use.”

Dr Steven Chow

Switching to alternative, less harmful options, can be a first step towards smoking cessation.

“We cannot discount tobacco harm reduction strategies,” Dr Chow pointed out. “Switching to less harmful alternatives such as vape, snus, nicotine patches and gum can provide smokers a pathway towards quitting traditional cigarettes altogether.”

Less harmful alternatives

In this regard, healthcare professionals should base their goals around creating awareness of the risks associated with smoking and educate the public on the current options available to kick (quit) that habit.

“Multiple studies have shown that switching from traditional cigarettes to less harmful alternatives can potentially save the lives of smokers by reducing harm to their health caused by chronic cigarette smoke inhalation” explained Dr Chow.

To that end, FPMPAM will be spearheading an education series on tobacco harm reduction for its members and the medical community in the coming months.

FPMPAM will also be partnering like-minded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Addiction Medicine Association of Malaysia (AMAM) to train general practitioners (GPs) nationwide to provide cigarette cessation therapy to patients wanting to quit.

The challenges of the present COVID-19 pandemic have driven GPs to be more pro-active in engaging themselves with matters involving public health, including lessening the disease burden associated chronic smoking.

According to Public Health England (PHE), UK’s top public health organisation, in its “Vaping in England: 2021 Evidence Update Summary”, alternative nicotine delivery devices such as nicotine vaping products can play a crucial role in reducing the health burden caused by cigarette smoking.

In the same study, PHE also found that the highest quit rates of traditional smoking (74%) were seen when the quit attempt involved people using a medically guided cessation therapy.

“Of course, the ultimate goal is to quit altogether. Malaysia can look to countries like the UK as examples, as they have significantly reduced their smoking population by encouraging smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives,” suggested Dr Chow.

“In fact, hospitals in England have also opened vape shops within their premises as part of their efforts to eradicate smoking.” – June 28, 2021

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