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O'Leary, Renée and Polosa, Riccardo (2020) Tobacco harm reduction in the 21st century. Drugs and Alcohol Today , 20 , (3) , pp. 219-234.


Purpose: This paper aims to overview the need for tobacco harm reduction, the consumer products that facilitate tobacco harm reduction and the barriers to its implementation. The worldwide endemic of tobacco smoking results in the death of over seven million smokers a year. Cigarette quit rates are very low, from 3%–12%, and relapse rates are high, from 75%–80% in the first six months and 30%–40% even after one year of abstinence. In addition, some smokers do not desire to quit. Cigarette substitution in tobacco harm reduction is one strategy that may reduce the burden of morbidity and mortality.

Design/methodology/approach: This review examines the displacement of smoking through substitution of non-combustible low-risk products such as snus, heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes.

Findings: Toxicological testing, population studies, clinical trials and randomized controlled trials demonstrate the potential reductions in exposures for smokers. Many barriers impede the implementation of product substitution in tobacco harm reduction. These products have been subjected to regulatory bans and heavy taxation and are rejected by smokers and society based on misperceptions about nicotine, sensational media headlines and unsubstantiated fears of youth addiction. These barriers will need to be addressed if tobacco harm reduction is to make the maximum impact on the tobacco endemic.

Originality/value: This review provides the rationale for tobacco harm reduction, evaluates the current products available and identifies the barriers to implementation.

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Tobacco / Nicotine
Intervention Type
Harm reduction, Policy
March 2020
Identification #
Page Range
pp. 219-234

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