A renowned cancer doctor advised Filipino medical professionals to look at smoke-free alternatives like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products as tools to help address smoking-related diseases in the Philippines, while declaring that nicotine is not a source of cancer.
Dr. David Khayat, a French oncologist, said smokers who would not quit even when afflicted with cancer should be given alternatives that can reduce their exposure to toxicants and carcinogens.
“All of these alternatives such as snus, electronic cigarettes [vapes] and heated tobacco products are showing very significant efficacy in helping people switch from real cigarettes that are very bad to health,” Khayat said during a virtual presentation before members of the Philippine Medical Association.
Dr. Khayat, a professor of Oncology at Pierre et Marie Curie University and head of Medical Oncology at La Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital in Paris, discussed the topic “Smoking, Cancer and Tobacco Harm Reduction” during the 115th PMA Annual Convention and Scientific Meetings on May 19 to 22, 2022.
He said nicotine is not a source of cancer, as health experts even prescribe nicotine replacement therapy to help smokers quit.
“If you want to reduce exposure to carcinogens, you must identify the nature, production and exposure source of carcinogens,” said Khayat. “Smokers commonly misperceive that nicotine is a major carcinogen,” he said, adding that it is contrary to the conclusion of Cancer Research UK, which found that nicotine is not responsible for the harmful effects of smoking.
“Nicotine does not cause cancer, and people have used nicotine replacement therapy safely for many years. NRT is safe enough to be prescribed by doctors,” the Cancer Research UK said.
Khayat said while the best thing for patients is to completely quit smoking, most fail to do so, with studies showing that as many as 64 percent of people with lung cancer continue to smoke, even though they know that it is bad for their health.
“The fact is 80 percent of smokers would never leave smoking. And 64 percent of people smoking will not stop even if they have cancer,” he said. “So we have to find a way. Knowing that smoking was bad, they continue to smoke even if they have cancer. So we have to provide them with a solution, if not they are going to be desperate.”
Khayat, who has devoted himself to the fight against cancer for more than three decades, said these solutions now include snus, vapes and HTPs, all of which “are showing very significant efficacy in helping people switch from real cigarettes that are very bad to their health.”
The fight against cancer should involve reducing exposure to known carcinogens, he said, adding that the current anti-smoking policies, which revolve around bans and increases in taxes, failed to address the problem of smoking cigarette, which contains more than 6,000 chemicals and ultrafine particles, including 80 carcinogens or potential carcinogens.
He said that if prohibition or ban on smoking was not working, it is the responsibility of medical professionals to provide alternatives that reduce the harm from smoking, and these should include innovative products such as e-cigarettes, HTPs and snus.
“The greater amount of carcinogens you are exposed to, the higher the risk of cancer,” said Khayat. “Although 80 percent of all lung cancers occur in smokers, only 8 percent of all smokers will develop lung cancer.”
He said among the strategies to fight cancer is the reduction of exposure to carcinogens. Harm reduction is not a new concept, but a term that arose in the context of drug addiction, he said. “People make poor lifestyle choices despite suffering negative health effects,” he said.
He said it was the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who pioneered the focus on harm reduction during the AIDS epidemic in the UK, which resulted in the lowest rates of HIV among drug users in the word.
Over the past 12 years, UK think tank Centre for Social Justice led the change in drug policy in favor of abstinence. The outcome from such shift is that drug-related fatalities doubled since 2011, and one in three drug-related deaths in Europe are now in the UK, he said.
Khayat said doctors also have a role to play to help remove the stigma among smokers. He said this is where tobacco harm reduction comes in. “Accepting that some levels of bad behaviors are inevitable, therefore, we should target to minimize the harm people suffer as a consequence,” he said.
He said vapes, HTPS and snus provide alternatives to cigarettes to reduce exposure to carcinogens. Khayat said different scientific bodies confirmed that using snus instead of cigarettes puts individuals at a lower risk of mouth cancer, heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
In Japan, a study found reduced formation of harmful and potentially harmful constituents in HTPS compared to cigarettes. A study on the effects of switching to HTP concluded in 2021 that consistent improvements in respiratory symptoms, exercise tolerance, quality of life and rate of disease and exacerbations were observed in patients with COPD who abstained from smoking or substantially reduced their cigarette consumption by switching to HTP use.
In July 2020, the US FDA determined that the exposure modification order for IQOS would be appropriate to promote the public health and is expected to benefit the health of the population as a whole.
A 2021 study suggested that the use of e-cigs could be a third as harmful to health as smoking especially in high-income country settings. The estimate is based on number of biomarker studies.
Khayat said that on a country level, Japan experienced a 34-percent decline in cigarettes sales in four years following the introduction of heated tobacco products.
“In a perfect world, the dream is to eliminate smoking and therefore all smoking-related diseases. If not possible, I think we have to take decision based on science, and not on emotion or opinion,” he said.