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Tobacco harm reduction and the right to health

Tobacco harm reduction: protecting health and upholding human rights

Harm reduction is an evidence-based public health strategy grounded in human rights. It enables people to make healthier choices and live healthier lives.

The 1.1 billion people who smoke tobacco every day in order to use nicotine must not be denied access to products that can help them avoid poor quality of life, disease, and premature death.

Wherever they live, people who use nicotine should have the right to gain access to information, services and products that can reduce the harms they face, enabling them to achieve a higher quality of health and life should they wish to do so. Just like everyone else, people who use nicotine deserve to achieve their fullest health potential.

Individual governments should adhere to their obligations under the international covenants they are party to, to create policy, regulation and legislation that enables people who smoke to make healthier choices. At present, only a few governments are fully allowing and facilitating these rights.

“As I’ve continued to use an e-cigarette, I’ve found that the strength of nicotine [I use] is gradually getting lower and lower. I’m a non-smoker now, and I will never turn back.”


Consumers want safer nicotine products. Many millions have already chosen to switch away from combustible tobacco – at negligible cost, and with significant benefits, to governments and taxpayers.

But the public health potential of tobacco harm reduction cannot be realised if regulation and control decisions continue to be based on sensational media coverage, flawed science and misleading public information.

If the WHO is to meet its ambitious goals to tackle non-communicable diseases, it must recognise, adopt and communicate the benefits of tobacco harm reduction to governments, policymakers and the public.

TABAC in street
Image: Ray Reyes on Unsplash

When tobacco harm reduction is properly integrated into the response to the health crisis caused by tobacco smoking, deaths and disease will reduce – and faster than tobacco control measures will ever achieve alone.

Tobacco harm reduction protects health and upholds human rights. A billion lives are at stake.