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Dhaka Tribune

Tobacco-free Bangladesh: Can science offer a solution?

It is crucial to explore innovative approaches grounded in scientific research to improve the situation

Update : 21 Aug 2023, 11:20 PM

In Bangladesh, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are on the rise, accounting for a significant portion of mortality and disease burden. These include heart attacks, strokes, chronic respiratory diseases, cancers, and diabetes. 

Moreover, the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes affects a substantial portion of the population, while cancer cases are alarmingly high. 

A recent study conducted by the NCD Control unit at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) found that tobacco product usage is a major contributor to NCD risk factors. 

A significant portion of the population, around 44.9%, uses tobacco products, both smoked and smokeless.

Given the substantial number of adult smokers in the country, it's crucial to explore innovative approaches grounded in scientific research to improve the situation.

Nicotine has been a subject of debate in recent years due to its potential health risks. Misinformation and a lack of understanding have obscured the true nature of nicotine and its relationship with combustion, leading to misconceptions about its health effects. Contrary to common belief, nicotine itself, though addictive, does not cause diseases and is present in various everyday products. The main health risks associated with smoking are primarily linked to the combustion process.

File image of Dr Ziaul Huq, a senior consultant of Respiratory Medicine Department at Evercare Hospital Dhaka. Photo: Courtesy

Understanding the distinction between nicotine and the combustion process is essential. Research from the US Department of Health and Human Services reveals that the combustion process in smoking releases a host of toxic substances, including carbon monoxide, tar, and carcinogens. While nicotine is highly addictive, it does not contribute to the range of health issues often connected with smoking.

In recent developments, alternatives involving the heating of tobacco instead of burning have emerged. 

These options potentially cater to both individuals struggling with addiction and those not yet inclined to quit smoking. By circumventing combustion, the emission of harmful chemicals is notably diminished in comparison to traditional cigarettes. 

Notably, the shift towards these alternatives, as evidenced by Japan's reduced smoking rates, presents the prospect of meaningful risk reduction at both personal and societal dimensions.

Nevertheless, introducing these alternatives has triggered discussions among health experts, policymakers, and the tobacco industry. Some argue that promoting these alternatives might inadvertently perpetuate smoking or discourage quitting. It's imperative for the government and regulatory bodies to carefully consider scientific evidence when crafting harm reduction policies. Finding a balance that provides access to safer choices for current smokers while deterring non-smokers from initiation is crucial.

The traditional "quit or die" approach is no longer sufficient, as countless lives are at stake. Working toward a future where the health impacts of smoking are minimized is possible, empowering individuals to make choices that enhance their well-being. By offering consumers reliable, evidence-based information and science-driven products, we have the potential to create a positive impact on society as a whole.

 

Dr Ziaul Huq is the senior consultant of Respiratory Medicine Department at Evercare Hospital Dhaka

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