International poll shows we hope science will solve many of the world’s problems

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In a world reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, the role of science has been highlighted.

Chief science advisers, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts have become household names around the world; all hopes rested on the pioneers of modern medicine to provide the escape route: a vaccine. We gobble up information with rediscovered enthusiasm, hungry for scientific facts rather than disorienting hearsay, rumors and rhetoric.

Yet this spotlight does not extend to the larger context and opportunities based on the foundations of scientific understanding to advance humanity are missed. When science is not harnessed to its full potential – when the public and government officials are denied access to accurate, easy to understand, and not misleading scientific information – a divide is created that allows ideology , politics and unsubstantiated beliefs take precedence over facts. It hampers progress.

A recent white paper from Philip Morris International (PMI), “In favor of the primacy of science”, Revealed that 77 percent of those polled in 19 countries, including South Africa, hope that advances in science will ultimately solve many of the world’s most pressing problems.

With over a billion smokers worldwide today and 11 million in South Africa, smoking-related diseases are among these pressing problems. How can science help?

Although tobacco control measures aimed at preventing smoking initiation and encouraging smoking cessation are in place, there is a growing consensus that more can be done to reduce the prevalence of smoking and that the reduction tobacco harm (THR) can complement these measures. HRT involves strategies to provide adults who would otherwise continue to smoke with access to accurate, non-misleading information about less harmful alternatives.

Scientific evidence shows that nicotine, while addictive and not without risk, is not the leading cause of smoking-related illnesses. Rather, they are caused by the harmful chemicals found in the smoke produced when tobacco is burned.

Thanks to science and technology, the delivery of nicotine has been decoupled from the combustion of tobacco to create smoke-free products such as heated tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and other innovations, which can significantly reduce the formation of harmful chemicals and body exposure to these toxic substances compared to cigarette smoke.

To be clear, these products are not without risk and contain addictive nicotine. The best choice any smoker can make is to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether. However, most do not. Switching to scientifically proven smoke-free products is a better choice than continuing to smoke and may represent a public health opportunity to accelerate the decline in the prevalence of smoking and the harm associated with smoking in the population.

But this cannot happen if adults who smoke are unable to obtain or access accurate information about these products.

According to the white paper, while 87% of South African respondents seek more in-depth information on scientific developments, only 18% find it very easy to access reliable information on the latest scientific developments and studies. In the case of smokeless products, reliable information is perhaps more difficult to obtain given the barrage of disinformation spread by those who ideologically oppose the idea that adult smokers should have access to better alternatives.

This behavior and misinformation needs to be challenged because it maintains the status quo that smoking cigarettes is the most harmful form of nicotine use.

According to the white paper, 84% of people across all countries want their governments to take recent findings into account when making policy. However, only 51% of those people think their leaders do. Additionally, just over half (54%) believe their government is doing a good job of providing unbiased and reliable information on the latest scientific developments and studies.

This implies that beyond finding objective facts and assessing the totality of available evidence to inform their decisions, it is equally important that policy makers discuss data in an open and transparent manner. Additionally, when decision-makers are guided by solid science, it is in their interest to provide access to scientific content that explains and justifies their policy decisions.

Regulatory frameworks that put science and evidence at the heart of decision-making and differentiate smokeless alternatives from combustible cigarettes in order to promote public health already exist. For example, the United States FDA’s modified risk tobacco product application process sets a clear path for the evaluation and potential authorization of claims for tobacco and nicotine-containing products that are scientifically proven. as being a better choice than cigarettes for adults who would otherwise continue to smoke.

Scientifically supported smokeless products represent a public health opportunity and regulating these products differently from cigarettes is key to ensuring that adult smokers know and can get reliable information to make better choices than to continue to smoke.

Scientific evidence about smokeless products must be relied on to inform regulations that encourage adults who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes to choose better alternatives. However, in South Africa all tobacco products are regulated in the same way as cigarettes, although some are fundamentally different, which raises a very important question: “What scientific evidence is taken into account or considered in the process? assessment of how these products should be regulated? “



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