A new study has suggested that stubbing out smoking may be possible. Smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes have been promoted as a harm reduction strategy for smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit.
The strategy, embraced by both industry and some public health advocates, is based on the assumption that as smoking declines overall, only those who cannot quit will remain.
However, researchers at UC San Francisco have found just the opposite. When the fraction of the population that smoked declined, the remaining smokers actually smoked less and were more likely to quit than to stick with it.
The authors said their findings challenge the need to promote new forms of nicotine delivery, such as e-cigarettes, since the smoking population continues to quit smoking as a result of proven policies and interventions.
The concept of harm reduction, first proposed in the 1970s, was based on the theory that as smoking prevalence declines, the remaining “hard core” smokers will be less likely or able to quit smoking, a process called hardening. The study found that the population is actually softening.
The fact that the smoking population is softening has important implications for public health policy, said senior author Stanton A. Glantz, adding that these results suggest that current tobacco control policies have been leading to softening of the smoking population without the need to promote new recreational nicotine products like e-cigarettes.
First author Margarete C. Kulik said that the takeaway is that the current policies have been working, including strong anti-tobacco media, smokefree laws and increased tobacco taxes. As a result, smoking prevalence has declined and the smoking population has become more likely to quit smoking altogether.
The study appears online in the journal Tobacco Control.