Tobacco harm reduction: what do the experts think?

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To assess experts’ opinions about the future of, and potential to improve individual and public health through “tobacco harm reduction” (THR), the use of novel nicotine containing products purporting to reduce the health risks from cigarette smoking.


Semi-structured telephone interviews on nine topic areas, with qualitative content analysis of coded transcripts.


Participants: 29 professionals with expertise related to tobacco and interest in THR, including prominent tobacco control advocates (7), pharmaceutical (3) and tobacco industry scientists/officials (5), non-industry scientists (12), and Congressional staff (2).


Respondents agreed that harm reduction is at minimum theoretically plausible, that characteristics of “good” and “bad” THR products can be identified, that government regulation is essential but not likely in the foreseeable future, and that additional scientific data are very much needed. However, there was no consensus on specifics, such as preferred regulatory strategies or examples of ideal THR products. Disagreement was seen not only across but also within respondent categories. Mistrust of key stakeholders—for example, tobacco control advocates distrust of tobacco industry scientists and vice versa—was pervasive, and cited frequently as a barrier to regulation and collaboration.


Continued dialogue and debate are essential as we enter a new and uncertain era of products purporting to reduce tobacco produced harm. Experts have concluded that effective government regulation is crucial to minimising the risks associated with THR and maximising potential benefits.

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