File: A woman smokes waterpipe (Shisha) at a cafe in Dubai on May 31, 2008. The Gulf emirate of Dubai banned the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 20 with immediate effect - Copyright © africanews MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP

An assessment conducted by the Ministry of Health, the Food and Drug Authority (FDA), the Secretariat of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) (Convention Secretariat), WHO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has revealed that more than 800,000 Ghanaians continue to smoke and every year, tobacco use kills more than 6,700 Ghanaians, with 66 percent of these deaths being premature, among people under the age of 70.

These statistics denote many more Ghanaians are not able to quit tobacco or smoking, in general, irrespective of the rehabilitation and restrictive laws eschewing people from smoking.

It is on this score that the Executive Director of the Institute for Liberty and Policy Innovation, (ILAPI), Peter Bismark Kwofie has called on stakeholders in the health sector and policymakers to consciously develop an educative medium-long term gradual approach to reducing tobacco use rather than a short-term radical approach of denying consumers the right to make choices.

“ILAPI as a free enterprise organization that emphasizes freedom and individual liberty, profess other important and evidence-based alternatives to reduce the harm caused by tobacco and subsequently leading to quitting smoking.

Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths globally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco use kills approximately eight (8) million people annually, with more than even (7) million of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).

In addition, it causes lung cancer, tobacco use increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other chronic illnesses.

Experts say the most effective way to prevent tobacco-related deaths is to quit smoking completely, however, addictive smokers are reluctant and unable to quit.

This according to Mr. Kwofie calls for harm reduction strategies which is crucial as an effective public health solution.

He noted that absolutely quitting the habit of smoking has been quite unsustainable, repressive, and draconian.

Over the past decades, smoke cessation has been promulgated as the best approach to helping combustible smokers to quit. The addictive nature of the nicotine in cigarettes has made quitting smoking a prolonged and difficult process and that, many more smokers are unable to quit.

It is estimated that $115 billion is needed to be invested to help in smoking cessation from 2020–2030. In 2019, the economic cost of tobacco use in Ghana amounted to approximately GH668 million, equivalent to 0.2 percent of the country’s GDP.

The Executive Director of ILAPI is of the view that health workers, social workers, other relevant stakeholders, and policymakers should consider other alternatives which will be less costly and harmful measures to address the consumer choice addiction rate of tobacco.

“In this context, it is crucial to explore the potential benefits and drawbacks of Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) and weigh them against the well-established harmfulness of tobacco use to develop effective strategies for reducing tobacco consumption in Ghana.” He reiterated.

The Executive Director of ILAPI stressed that THR as a public solution recognizes the harm caused by combustible cigarettes and aims to minimize the health impacts of cigarette smoking by encouraging those adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke to switch completely to scientifically substantiated, reduced-risk alternatives ought to be explored in our contemporary society.

Mr. Kwofie thinks that there could be a geo-cultural diversification of solutions to tobacco control but cautioned that the state should conduct and adopt empirically proven techniques as an alternative to reduce harm and death caused by Tobacco whilst not curtailing consumer choice.

“The inhumane and unscientific “Quit or Die” policy should not be reinforced. Instead of putting vapers and consumers at risk, this is a very good opportunity to raise awareness about THR in general, and encourage smokers who cannot quit smoking to adopt it.” He said.

There has been a school of thought of increasing taxes on tobacco products and banning THR products are the best initiatives to prevent people from smoking. But according to the Executive Director of ILAPI, anytime taxes (excise and consumption taxes) on products are high, the rich could buy and the middle-income and poor would engage in smuggling adding to the cost of fighting illicit transactions on tobacco.

“High taxes on tobacco products as means of cessation is not public health,” he retorted