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What is Tobacco Harm Reduction?


Harm reduction - a topic often discussed in psychology circles, sounds pretty self explanatory. It refers to the concept of reducing the harm one exposes themselves to through daily activities.

If the action is harmful by itself, what can be done to help lessen the harm that the person is exposed to? Tobacco harm reduction is primarily focused on reducing or eliminating the use of combustible tobacco by switching to other products. Such products could include oral products like Swedish-style snus (which carries its own risks), nicotine gums or topical patches, or vapor products. It could also simply mean a concerted effort to reduce the amount of smoking one does, possibly supplementing cigarette use with one of these alternatives during the process of weaning oneself off tobacco.

While it may seem fairly straightforward, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding the principles once they’re put into practice. No reduction strategy will eliminate 100% of the harm that the individual may be exposed to, for example. Even vaping carries an as-yet unknown set of risk factors. However, if someone can decrease the level of harm they are exposing themselves to, isn’t that worth looking into?

Can reduced harm alternatives actually work? If you ask Sweden, the answer is a resounding YES. Over a period of time, snus has gained popularity with Swedish men, to the point it even surpasses cigarette use. This change wasn’t brought on by government mandate, but rather occurred over a period of time naturally as common preferences changed.

Swedish men now have a very low rate of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases compared to their female counterparts, who continue to smoke at rates typical of other countries. Are these results typical? The jury’s still out on that one, additional research needs to be done. However, the potential to lessen the harm one exposes themselves and others to is not something to be overlooked.

It seems simple enough, but tobacco harm reduction is not always recognized as an option when beginning a smoking cessation regiment. Transitioning to a practice that is less harmful as either a transitional tool to completely abandoning nicotine or as a goal in and of itself is always on the table. As always, it’s best to do your own research and consult with health professionals if you are interested in taking a step toward reducing the harm inflicted by tobacco - if you decide vaping is an avenue to explore, welcome to our world, we’re glad to help!