Activists root for oral nicotine  products instead of tobacco

Mr Atakan Befrits

KAMPALA- Economists and leading international Tobacco Harm Reduction experts, drawn from Africa and Europe, have advised smokers in Uganda to turn to oral nicotine products saying it is least 90 per cent safer than smoking.

 Nicotine pouches are white pre-portioned pouches containing nicotine but no tobacco, and are described as either similar to or a tobacco-free version of snus.

 During a webinar (Internet based seminar) on August 4,  that was co-hosted by the Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA) and the Africa Tobacco Harm Reduction Forum (ATHRF) the activists said Uganda must seize the opportunity.

Mr Atakan Befrits, a Sweden-based Tobacco Harm Reduction policy advocacy and products regulation expert said: “This figure is “most likely closer to 99 per cent when you account for the food grade standard to which some of the latest products are produced.”

 Mr Befrits, who is also the chairman of the board of Trustees for New Nicotine Alliance Sweden and COO of International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO), was one of the guest speakers at a webinar co-hosted by the Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA) and the Africa Tobacco Harm Reduction Forum (ATHRF).

 The Webinar’s topic centred on providing an in-depth and comprehensive insight into the role that oral tobacco pouches and tobacco-free oral nicotine can play in reducing the harm caused by conventional cigarettes.

 Mr Befrits said that snus is a form of tobacco pouch placed between the gum and upper lip, which has been popular in Sweden for more than a hundred years. He also advised people to look to Sweden’s incredible wealth of evidence on snus.

 He said Sweden has detailed health records for snus users dating back to 1901, evidence which points to markedly better health outcomes for snus users compared to conventional smokers.

 “Snus has been by far the most common, and successful, assisted smoke cessation tool used in Sweden since the 1970s. Sweden is now “smoke free,” which according to the WHO’s own definition of the term, means that smoking incidence is now less than 5 per cent,” he said.

 The experts, however, said the one of the main drawbacks with snus from a health perspective, is

the presence of tobacco-specific nitrosamines, TSNA, contained in the tobacco in snus.

 However, according to Mr Befrits, in the old formulations of snus, extended exposure was associated with gum-disease and there has been some, albeit inconsistent, evidence linking it with certain oral and other cancers.

 He said that the latest formulations, the so called “Swedish Snus”, have significantly reduced the levels of TNSAs and more recent evidence suggests snus is not a risk factor for oral cancer, among others.

Tobacco free nicotine pouches are used in the same way as snus.

 He said the big advantage of tobacco-free oral nicotine over snus is that it does not contain tobacco. Instead, modern technology is used to extract nicotine and deliver it to consumers tobacco-free. This effectively eliminates the TNSAs altogether.

 The webinar was organised by Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA), which is a pan-African non-governmental member organisation dedicated to achieving 100 per cent smoke-free environments in Africa.

 Mr Joseph Magero, Chairman of CASA – Africa, concurred with Mr Befrits, saying tha that Africa has 77 million smokers, most of whom have never heard of snus or modern nicotine pouches.

He also said that those decrying snus and oral nicotine products have not kept the pace with changes in product composition and the latest evidence, much less do they understand the differences between the products.

 Mr Magero said governments have a responsibility to make sure that current smokers are aware of and have access to Tobacco Harm Reduction products.

Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR), is a tobacco harm reduction advocacy and awareness a campaign based in Kampala –Uganda. Their core mandate is to end cigarette and save smokers lives by creating awareness of existing safer nicotine alternatives and is part of Campaign for Safer Alternatives.