'Lower-risk' tobacco products deserve reprieve

I was a light smoker for 35 years, until 1993, and am fortunate to have avoided any adverse health effects.

While I agree with Professor Chia Kee Seng that we need to put in place robust strategies to regulate the promotion and marketing of alternative tobacco products, we should not deny the opportunity for "less harmful" products as a plus factor for existing smokers to make the switch ("Be ahead of innovation in tobacco industry"; June 18).

Recent research has shown that new tobacco products without carcinogenic agents have some merit, as they ensure that smokers inhale less of the harmful chemicals associated with their habit.

The tobacco industry generates more than US$650 billion (S$880 billion) in economic value globally, while providing employment for producers, wholesalers, distributors, and point-of-sales operators. It is also a significant source of tax revenue.

While imposing limitations on smoking in public places may be justified, a blanket ban on the sale of tobacco products is not feasible.

A parallel can be drawn with alcohol - despite its negative externalities, drinking is part and parcel of modern social culture, and the harm it might inflict on third parties can be mitigated through responsible consumption.

Likewise, we cannot completely deny smokers the liberty to enjoy the pleasure of cigarettes, provided they do so with a degree of regard for their own and others' health.

There are studies showing that smoking cessation programmes using nicotine replacement, drugs, hypnosis and social interventions may fail to achieve satisfactory results. Research has also found that smoking in moderation can potentially reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease, obesity and dementia.

Since smoking is here to stay as a personal choice, we would do well to consider tobacco products without carcinogenic agents as a plus factor. Let the market test the effectiveness of those heat-not-burn tobacco and similar nicotine products, which have been claimed to significantly reduce or eliminate more than 100 harmful chemicals.

It seems reasonable to open a window of three to six months to allow such innovative new tobacco and nicotine products to advertise.

Their main purpose would be educational rather than commercial; no monetary promotions should be included.

Rather, these advertisements should be designed to inform existing smokers that these new products may make their tobacco consumption a little less harmful, while discouraging non-smokers from picking up the habit.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline ''Lower-risk' tobacco products deserve reprieve'. Print Edition | Subscribe