Consumers from various countries unite to end global smoking scourge

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Consumer groups from various countries emphasized the need for collaboration to achieve their shared goal of eradicating smoking by providing adult smokers who choose to continue using nicotine with better alternatives to cigarettes.

“Now we work as a network. I’m very proud of the new advocacy groups working together in Chile and across Latin America,” Ignacio Leiva, founder and president of the Association of Vaporizer Consumers of Chile (ASOVAPE) and secretary of ARDT Iberoamerica, said in the 11th Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) held in Warsaw, Poland from June 13 to 15, 2024.

Consumers discussed during the forum their initiatives aimed at encouraging smokers to quit or switch to less harmful alternatives. Leiva is among the consumer advocates who have been instrumental in promoting tobacco harm reduction (THR) in Latin America. “I started a community of e-cigarette users on Facebook to educate them about the benefits and potential drawbacks,” he said. “It’s crucial for users to be aware.”

Leiva credits the GFN with empowering consumer activism in Chile. “The GFN helped us professionalize our advocacy,” he said. “We gained knowledge about harm reduction and what we were fighting for. We were advocating for something we couldn’t properly articulate before.”

Consumer advocates like Leiva continue to face challenges, including the complex THR environment across countries, their exclusion from policy discussions, and the World Health Organization’s refusal to hear their voices.

While often neglected in debates that result in disproportionate regulations, restrictions on sales and use, and outright bans on smoke-free products, consumer groups are at the forefront of the global campaign to end smoking by urging authorities to adopt a science-based approach and recognize smoke-free alternatives as better substitutes to combustible cigarettes.

These devices are part of THR—a public health approach that aims to lessen the harm caused by cigarette smoking, the most dangerous form of tobacco use. Scientific studies have shown that smoke-free products are at least 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Unlike cigarettes, these products do not burn tobacco or produce smoke containing thousands of harmful chemicals.

Asa Saligupta, director and founding member of ENDS Cigarette Smoke Thailand (ECST) and a member of the Parliament’s Committee on Laws and Regulations of E-Cigarettes, highlighted the challenges in Asian countries such as Thailand, where e-cigarettes have been banned for 10 years.

“Despite the ban, Thailand has over 1.5 million vapers,” Saligupta said. “Importing and distributing e-cigarettes is illegal, so you can’t sell them. But buying, possessing and using them are not illegal. Vaping itself isn’t illegal because there are no laws controlling it. You can even vape in no-smoking zones without penalty.”

Saligupta said to reverse the ban, the ECST, with over 100,000 members, has been working to educate the public and advocate to government officials.

Carissa Düring, director of Considerate Pouchers in Sweden, a global consumer advocacy group promoting a smoke-free world and consumer rights to alternative nicotine products, pointed to Swedish experience as a successful example of THR.

“Since 2016, we’ve had nicotine pouches,” Düring said. “They were invented here, and they have contributed to decreasing smoking rates, particularly among women. For the entire population, we now have a very low smoking rate of 5.6 percent, the lowest in the European Union.”

Düring said Sweden’s success stemmed from consumer choice. “When we entered the European Union, consumers said, ‘Don’t touch our snus,'” she said. “That’s why Sweden has had snus for a long time. This is a consumer-driven movement, not a government policy.”

“Swedish politicians don’t realize we are becoming smoke-free,” Düring said.

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