In Indigenous populations, both on reserve and off reserve, the number of smokers is 2-3 times higher than among non-indigenous Canadians. As a result, smoking-related diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and COPD are elevated.
Tobacco harm reduction strategies that leverage advancements in science and technology are an essential component of a smoke-free future. There is a need to provide smokers with less harmful alternatives to cigarette smoking. Quitting smoking is the best choice to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals related to smoking cigarettes, however, only a small percentage of adults who attempt to do so are successful in quitting for 6-12 months or longer.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 6,000 constituents including more than 100 harmful or potentially harmful toxicants that are generated by combustion of tobacco. Heated tobacco products and e-vapour products are designed to deliver nicotine to the user in the absence of combustion. For example, the scientific studies carried out by Philip Morris International on IQOS, an electronic device developed by the company which heats tobacco instead of burning it, demonstrated that the aerosol released from this product when it heats tobacco contains no carbon-based solid particles and 90-95 percent less harmful or potentially harmful chemicals compared to cigarette smoke.
Clinical studies conducted by Philip Morris International have measured several biomarkers of smoke exposure, that is chemicals that are detected in blood or urine samples from individuals who smoke, in people who switched to its heated tobacco product, people who quit smoking, and people who continued to smoke. The results of these studies show that there was a significant reduction in biomarkers of smoke exposure in individuals who switched to the heated tobacco product; and that the reduction was close to 95 percent of the overall reduction that was observed by those who quit smoking.
Smoke-free products, that is those that do not combust tobacco, such as heated tobacco products and e-vapour products, are innovative alternatives to reduce exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals and thereby reduce the risk of smoking-related diseases for adult smokers that switch to these alternatives.
For the millions of smokers in Canada and the one billion smokers around the world, access to a portfolio of cessation approaches and smoke-free alternative products has the potential to reduce the risks associated with cigarette smoking and improve health outcomes for those who switch.
Governments around the world have reviewed the emerging scientific evidence and published reports supporting the use of reduced risk products for smoking-related harm reduction. It is time for a “Made in Canada” solution to support tobacco harm reduction. Government, non-government organizations, industry, other stakeholders, and Indigenous communities must work together to advance policy that educates the public about less harmful options and, ultimately, reduces health risks associated with cigarette smoking and possibly saves lives. The high prevalence of smoking within Indigenous communities is further evidence that now is the time to adopt tobacco harm reduction strategies.