Introduction to the THRSP

The Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Programme is the jewel in the crown for Knowledge•Action•Change (K•A•C).

In just three years, the Programme has had an unprecedented global impact with Scholars on six continents completing a wide range of successful projects.

We have already built an extensive new network of advocates raising awareness of tobacco harm reduction around the world and this report tells the story of our progress during the first of three years of our Programme.

Read on to find out why the Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Programme (THRSP) was so urgently needed and meet some of the wonderful Scholars whose passion for education and research is changing the lives of smokers in their home countries and beyond.

Thanks to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

The THRSP is funded with a grant from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Inc. (FSFW), a US nonprofit 501(c)(3) private foundation. The FSFW has no role in the planning or execution of this project.

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Background

Globally 1.1 billion people continue to smoke. 80 per cent live in low and middle-income countries least able to support people to quit, or to treat smoking-related diseases. Every year, there are 8 million smoking-related deaths worldwide. More people die prematurely from smoking than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

But, despite millions spent on tobacco control efforts, the number of smokers now is the same as it was twenty years ago. While prevalence rates have declined in some countries, populations have increased. The urgent need for a solution is clear.

Tobacco harm reduction using safer nicotine products (SNP) has the potential to help millions of smokers move away from smoking. Most people who smoke want to improve their health but many had been unable to quit smoking until the arrival of SNP. Progress has been slow, but the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR), a K•A•C project, estimates that since the introduction of vaping devices and heated tobacco products at the start of this century, around 100 million people have switched either to these products or to Swedish snus or nicotine pouches.

For the last decade, K•A•C has been at the forefront of advocacy for tobacco harm reduction. Since 2011, our team has been building alliances with consumers, academics, researchers, regulators and policymakers, drawing on our collective experience of harm reduction in response to HIV/AIDS and illicit drug use.

K•A•C researches, informs and communicates new ways of preventing the harms caused to individuals and communities by smoking. In some mainly higher income countries, understanding is increasing about appropriate and effective, evidence-based regulation for harm reduction products and harm reduction strategies that use them.

But globally there is still a pressing need to improve communication on the relative risks of the various ways of using nicotine, to help people make informed choices and take control of their own health.

While the science indicates SNP are a potential game-changer for public health, many in tobacco control remain unconvinced, with some actively impeding the development of these new alternatives to smoking. International philanthropists fund agencies to oppose tobacco harm reduction, including specifically in low and middle-income countries, where the need is greatest. UN agencies have yet to support it, despite harm reduction being integrated into responses to HIV/AIDS and substance use. It is disappointing that resistance sometimes comes from those whose support for harm reduction in other fields should make them natural allies.

At K•A•C, we are keenly aware that capacity for research on tobacco harm reduction and SNP has been unevenly distributed around the world. Most has taken place in countries with strong public health structures and well-established research groups. This has limited studies to certain populations and contexts. It has meant that people in low and middle-income countries who smoke or use other risky forms of tobacco, as well as marginalised groups in higher income nations, have been largely overlooked in the search for appropriate, accessible and affordable solutions to the smoking epidemic.

We recognised there was a need to increase the number of individuals and organisations around the world able to conduct contextually and culturally appropriate harm reduction research and communicate effectively with the public and policymakers.

We wanted to attract a passionate and diverse group of new advocates into the field from across the globe. We wanted to inspire them to take the movement into the future. We wanted to find the researchers of tomorrow.

To do this, we created and developed the Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Programme (THRSP).

In 2018, K•A•C launched the THRSP with five fundamental aims:

✓ to increase research and practice capacity in tobacco harm reduction;

✓ to expand the evidence-base for new technologies and products which contribute to reducing smoking and improving both individual and population health;

✓ to introduce new thinkers, new ideas and new methods to tobacco harm reduction;

✓ to improve risk communication through the use of social media and new technologies to disseminate information, particularly to isolated groups and communities;

✓ to target locations and populations where current activities and resources are limited, especially in low and middle-income countries where the need to build capacity is greatest.

In the following three years, 75 Scholars from 33 countries joined our 12-month development programme and they have completed an astonishing variety of projects in all areas of tobacco harm reduction. We are pleased to say 18 of our graduates have gone on to become Enhanced Scholars. This is an additional one year programme that provides Scholars with the opportunity to delve even deeper into tobacco harm reduction and further advance their career development.

Our Programme grounds Scholars in the theory and practice of tobacco harm reduction, while building research capacity in the field and raising awareness of its implications for global public health policy.

The THRSP’s aims are realised in a variety of ways. These include papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, the creation of national and international tobacco harm reduction networks, the development of toolkits for practitioners, and the production of new media resources ranging from articles and films, to radio shows and podcasts.

Scholars work together and support each other’s projects, while receiving individual mentoring from an extensive network of world-leading tobacco harm reduction experts. We are proud to say that a number of our outstanding graduates have been invited back to the THRSP to mentor subsequent cohorts.

Since its launch, the THRSP has proven a successful and cost-effective means of increasing knowledge about and evidence for tobacco harm reduction. Our Scholars have helped to disseminate credible and accurate information to policymakers and consumers alike. Read the Meet Our Scholars section to get to know some of the remarkable people who have completed our Programme.

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