Wednesday, October 26, 2011

British and Australian Smokers Attracted to Smoke-Free Substitutes

A study published in Harm Reduction Journal (here) concludes that there is “an untapped interest in the use of substitutes to reduce the harmfulness of smoking…The greater the range of products on offer, the more smokers are likely to try a product to quit.”

The study’s lead author is Ron Borland at Australia’s VicHealth Center for Tobacco Control. His coauthors are from the University of Nottingham in the UK, and Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York.

Thirty-four smokers in the UK and 31 in Australia were recruited; each received a variety of smoke-free substitutes for “short term use (less than 1 week).” In the UK, 15 smokers preferred nicotine lozenges, 9 preferred Oliver Twist (here), one liked both products and 8 liked neither. Smokers in Australia were sent more products, and 17 tried all of them. Six favored Oliver Twist, 5 liked nicotine lozenges, 2 preferred Swedish snus (here) and one favored Stonewall/Ariva dissolvables (here); three smokers didn’t like any of the smoke-free alternatives.

Borland and colleagues reported that there was “considerable interest in using [pharmaceutical nicotine and smokeless tobacco] as a means of quitting smoking or as a long-term substitute for smoking.” They added that “the greater range of options provided, the more likely we are to find one that will be acceptable to any given smoker, thus increasing the potential pool of those who might be helped” and they advocated sampling to get “the participant to choose the product they wanted to use longer term” as a “sensible and viable approach for encouraging more than minimal use of substitute products.”

The authors reasonably write that smokers should try a variety of smoke-free substitutes, but they add an unrealistic caveat -- “we should not allow for-profit companies to directly market them to consumers, rather they should be available from a not-for-profit source.”

Borland and colleagues conclude that “…many smokers are interested in reducing the harmfulness of their smoking behaviour. Smokers deserve to know what the differential risks of potential alternatives are, and to be supported to make the choices that are in their long-term best interests, which is to quit nicotine altogether, but failing that use the least harmful form of nicotine they find acceptable.”

Many smokers are interested in harm reduction, but too many are dying every year – 15,000 in Australia, 80,000 in the UK and 400,000 in the US – because they don’t have truthful information about vastly safer cigarette alternatives.

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