Abstinence vs Harm Reduction
Every day 1,200 people die from tobacco related cancer. Smoking tobacco is the biggest cause of preventable death in the world. We all know smoking kills, yet for some strange reason smokers still smoke. There are two types of thought on how to address this problem:
Tobacco abstinence and tobacco harm reduction.
Both of these methods have their pros and cons, however in light of the recent electronic cigarettes popularity, tobacco harm reduction is gaining support from tobacco users and professionals.
Just like the topic of sex education was changed forever when people started talking about preventing diseases and unwanted births by using condoms and birth control, the topic of smoking is also changing with new discussions about tobacco harm reduction instead of just talking about tobacco abstinence.
Tobacco Abstinence Theory
When it comes to preventing tobacco related deaths and diseases, there has always been one goal, get smokers to quit smoking, or tobacco abstinence. It makes sense, if you can stop the cause (smoking), you can stop the effect (harm). Simple cause and effect thinking, right?. Tobacco abstinence = no tobacco harm.
But there is a massive problem with this idea of abstinence. Smokers who want to quit face extremely low odds. Less than 7% of smokers this year will succeed. (see casaa.org) Of the smokers who do succeed, many risk relapsing for the rest of their life.
The stark truth is, nicotine is one of the most additive substances there is, if not the most addictive substance in the world. It does not help that tobacco companies adds over 601 chemicals to tobacco to make them more addictive. It is extremely difficult to keep people from smoking once they start.
This same cause and effect theory tells us that: if the likelihood of quitting smoking is low, smoking will continue to kill people. It is like the system is broke, and we are foolish to continue to use the same tactics and expect different results. We continue to try to get smokers to quit, but as long as tobacco is available, people are going to suffer from the effects of smoking.
But tobacco abstinence is not the only theory…
Tobacco Harm Reduction Theory
The theory of tobacco abstinence is currently being challenged by a new idea called tobacco harm reduction (THR). THR splits tobacco into two parts: the harm caused by smoke and tar, and the harm caused by nicotine. Because nicotine addiction is the main problem when it comes to getting smokers to quit smoking, THR theory looks at the harm caused by nicotine itself compared to the harm caused by smoking. The good news is that nicotine is fairly safe in low doses, comparable to caffeine in effects and dangers. So in short, THR aims to give smokers who are unable to quit smoking an alternative source of nicotine to reduce tobacco harm.
Any type of smokeless tobacco is considered a form of tobacco harm reduction because it does not involve smoke or tar. This typically includes snus, chewing tobacco, tobacco strips-lozenges-stick-gum, and electronic cigarettes. These products can provide nicotine without lighting tobacco on fire and inhaling it, thereby reducing the harm caused by the smoke and tar from tobacco. Nobody is going to claim these products are 100% safe, but many claim they are safer than smoking tobacco. It is another way to approach the problem, and it is gaining popularity quickly thanks to e-cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes are not a cure for nicotine addiction, they simply give smokers another option opposed to inhaling burning tobacco.
Are electronic cigarettes safe? There is no claim of 100% safe e-cig, but the harmful effects of smoking is well documented. I am not a doctor and I am not qualified to give medical advice. I only share my own opinion and experiences within this site. I do not condone electronic cigarettes for non-smokers, underage people, or pregnant women.