There is insufficient evidence to recommend the use of novel nicotine and tobacco products as a ‘harm reduction’ strategy to reduce smoking and aid quitting.
This is according to an updated position statement from the European Respiratory Society (ERS), which states that such harm reduction claims are ‘simply exploited by the tobacco industry for financial gain’.
Since its previous statement on this topic was issued in 2019, evidence has increasingly shown legitimate concern around the long-term health risks of novel products such as electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products and nicotine pouches, the ERS said.
‘ERS maintains a firm position that all nicotine and tobacco products are highly addictive and harmful, and that quitting smoking entirely is still the best option,’ it added.
Across eight position statements, the ERS details this increasing evidence and suggests that novel tobacco and nicotine products do not help existing smokers to quit, are harmful to public health and constitute gateways towards nicotine addiction and the initiation of smoking among youth.
This can lead to much greater negative effect on a population level, it said.
And it encouraged the use of evidence-based interventions, such as nicotine replacement therapy or tobacco cessation medications when cessation aids are required.
‘Reducing tobacco use and protecting youth from addiction to emerging products that may normalise tobacco use should be a top priority,’ the ERS concluded.
Referring to the EU’s priority of a tobacco-free generation by 2040, the ERS added that it ‘does not recommend any lung-damaging products and cannot recommend harm reduction as a population-based strategy to reduce smoking and aid quitting’.
Commenting on the revised position statement, Dr Filippos Filippidis, chair of the ERS Tobacco Control Committee, said: ‘The argument that novel tobacco products contribute to “harm reduction” lacks sufficient independent evidence. Their potential lung damaging effects, and uptake amongst young people, means that ERS cannot support novel tobacco products and “harm reduction” as a population-based strategy.’
Disposable vapes banned in the UK
This updated ERS position statement on novel tobacco and nicotine products comes as the UK Government announced disposable vapes and alternatives such as nicotine pouches are to be banned.
The planned measures follow a consultation on smoking and vaping launched in October 2023, and are designed to ‘tackle the rise in youth vaping and protect children’s health’.
As part of the package announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, new powers will be introduced to restrict flavours specifically marketed at children and to ensure that manufacturers produce plain and less visually appealing packaging.
These powers will also allow the Government to change how vapes are displayed in shops, moving them out of sight of children and away from products that appeal to them, such as sweets.
Furthermore, the crackdown on underage sales will see the introduction of a new set of fines to shops in England and Wales selling vapes illegally to children, and trading standards officers will be empowered to act ‘on the spot’ to tackle underage sales.
The number of children using vapes in the UK in the past three years has tripled. Use among younger children is also rising, according to the figures, with 9% of 11- to 15-year-olds now using vapes.
Commenting that ‘marketing vapes to children is not acceptable‘, Mr Sunak said: ‘Alongside our commitment to stop children who turn 15 this year or younger from ever legally being sold cigarettes, these changes will leave a lasting legacy by protecting our children’s health for the long term.’