The need for affordable harm reduction products for the African Market

Low- and middle-income countries have the highest burden of harms associated with cigarette smoking. But, little to no affordable tobacco harm reduction products are available in Africa yet. E-cigarettes have gained much traction across the globe but not so much so in Africa. The available vape products retail at an average 30$, making them less affordable to millions of smokers in need of safer alternatives. The diversity of consumers and markets within Africa is staggering, but it presents tremendous opportunities for those who properly understand and navigate this complex marketplace.

Snus is more affordable, but I have noticed that many smokers like to mimic the act of smoking, so not all them favor snus. Vaping can provide the estimated 80 million smokers in Africa with “a get out of jail free card”.

Competition in the e-cigarette industry is being restructured with every major merger and acquisition taking place. Entrepreneurs should begin to invest in the African market expected to grow exponentially in the next decade. I remember when mobile phones began being sold here in the late 90s, companies were deeply skeptical about making any sales — fast forward 2018 we have over half a billion mobile phone owners on the continent. Standards of living vary immensely between countries. Even if the impact of differences in price levels between countries is removed, the average per capita income in high income countries is more than 10 times the average income in low income countries. Thus, an e-cigarette that costs the equivalent of US$30 is much more affordable in the US than in Kenya for example, even if one accounts for differences in the price level, simply because the standard of living is so much higher in the USA.

We have seen how Juul has been a game changer. I believe it is only a matter of time before we get vape products that are affordable for the common smoker in Africa (10–15$ max). With such alternatives, the number of cigarette smokers in the region will plummet and lives will be saved! My concern is always for the smoker. Since tobacco companies have the capacity to manufacture these types of products that undergo extensive research that costs millions, it is a win for public health.

Over the last 50 years, the concept of tobacco harm reduction has been well established. It is now understood that nicotine itself is not very harmful and nicotine replacement therapy products have been widely used as an aid to quit, reduce to quit or temporarily abstain from smoking for many years. The popularity of the unlicensed electronic cigarette has increased despite an unknown risk profile and snus use in Sweden provides strong evidence in support of a harm reduction strategy. The regulatory environment around harm reduction has changed in the UK and is continuing to evolve across the globe. The need for more appealing, licensed nicotine products capable of competing with cigarettes sensorially, pharmacologically and behaviorally is considered by many to be the way forward. The significant positive impact on public health that could be gained from encouraging people to switch from cigarettes to licensed medicinal nicotine products cannot be ignored.

Harm reduction products like Juul, IQOS and many more are generally for the high end consumers . There is need for THR products to be made available and accessible to smokers in Africa . This is one of the only regions where smoking rates are on the increase . If nothing is done,the number of tobacco related deaths will keep increasing annually. I hope a vaping company somewhere is working on availing affordable harm reduction products for the African market soon .