Research, Don’t Shun New Technologies
It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that I left my home in Pakistan to study in the UK. Back then, when I wanted to hear my family’s voice, I had to wait beside a landline telephone for what seemed like an eternity to get a three-minute, very expensive call from home. Compare that to communication technology now. Our mobile phones instantly connect us to the world 24 hours a day.
But like many new technologies, mobile phones were first met with skepticism and suspicion. Some worried about radiation causing cancer or heart disease. Others feared losing their privacy. But imagine what life would be like, if we had listened to those early, negative campaigns and banned mobile phones?
New technologies shouldn’t be banned or shunned, they should be studied and rigorously evaluated. Technological advances have great potential to improve global health in many ways – including by ridding the world of dangerous cigarette smoke. In the recently published article, Harm Minimization and Tobacco Control: Reframing Societal Views of Nicotine Use to Rapidly Save Lives, the authors, David Abrams et al., indicate we should re-evaluate traditional tobacco control strategies and explore the possible role of harm reduction products.
The Foundation for Smoke-Free World aims to do just that. With its recent call for public participation to help form its research agenda, the Foundation is keeping an open mind about the many ways in which rapidly advancing technologies can benefit global public health. We are seeking feedback and research partnerships not just with health organizations, but with technology companies, behavioral scientists and others with an interest in exploring new and innovative ways to end smoking.
New technologies can and should be part of the solution to the smoking epidemic. Yet, fears still abound, and in some cases, those fears are making it harder for smokers to put down their cigarettes. For example, countries as diverse as Brazil, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates have banned e-cigarettes, when studies show e-cigarettes can be an effective tool for helping smokers quit.
Smoking is the world’s most urgent public health problem. Ending smoking will require more than just one individual, one organization, or one idea – it will take an amalgamation of entities and ideas to find solutions that can truly help the one billion smokers living on this planet. Let’s be open to researching all advancements with a potential to do good for public health.