Group of Indian doctors endorses tobacco harm reduction

AHRER First Anniversary: Medical professionals belonging to the Association for Harm Reduction Education and Research (AHRER) meet to discuss tobacco harm reduction as a public health strategy to save life without imposing any stigma and discrimination as they mark their first year as a group in Delhi on 13 March 2021.

A group of medical professionals is pushing for tobacco harm reduction (THR) as a public health strategy to save millions of smokers in India from death and morbidity. Members of the Association for Harm Reduction Education and Research (AHRER), who marked their first year as a group in Delhi on 13 March 2021, discussed the potential of THR to reduce the harm caused by smoking among more than 100 million Indian adults. “Building synergies with existing harm reduction work being carried out under various national programs will definitely benefit the clients who are using multiple substances including tobacco,” said Dr. Sree T. Sucharitha, founder and co-director at AHRER. Dr. Kiran Melkote, an associate consultant at a private tertiary care hospital, said India’s tobacco burden is huge compared to other psychoactive substances. Unfortunately, he said, tobacco harm reduction is an essential strategy that has been neglected so far. Harm reduction in general is a public health strategy designed to reduce morbidity and mortality among adults, while THR refers to the use of significantly less harmful products as alternatives to deadly combustible cigarettes. Representatives from civil society organizations such as Drug User Forum, Misbah and Youth Rise, Indian Chapter emphasized the need to establish a consultative dialogue with tobacco users to explore harm reduction strategies that work to save life without imposing any stigma and discrimination.

Dr. Nimesh G. Desai, director at Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, Delhi said that including nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) in the National List of Essential Medicines would bring harm reduction options within accessible range for the public. Dr. Atul Ambekar, a professor at the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre and Department of Psychiatry in All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, encouraged other groups to team up with AHRER for meaningful discussions on harm reduction.“Any type of harm reduction philosopher, practitioner, or believer is welcome to join hands with AHRER. The association can learn from experienced organizations in the fields of drug harm reduction and alcohol harm reduction when focusing on tobacco harm reduction as no other organization is focusing on it in India,” he said. AHRER was formed in March 2020 by a group of multi-disciplinary medical professionals from diverse specialties to increase public awareness on harms resulting from various human behaviors associated with tobacco consumption, narcotics, alcohol, and obesity.

Dr. Vikas Jain, a founding member of AHRER, said the group focuses on major awareness and sensitization campaigns targeting youth, the general public, and medical professionals in preparation for the World No Tobacco Day-2021.AHRER aims to help improve public health awareness by educating the Indian public on health and related domains including familial, social, financial, and societal consequences of tobacco consumption, narcotics, alcohol, and obesity.

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