Innovating Against the Smoking Epidemic

Unveiling the 2024 Global Index of Effective Anti-Smoking Policies Reveals an Inconvenient Truth

Photo: Stop smoking background with cigarettes and ash by Marco Verch under Creative Commons 2.0
Photo: Stop smoking background with cigarettes and ash by Marco Verch under Creative Commons 2.0

The unveiling of the 2024 Effective Anti-Smoking Policies Global Index by We Are Innovation lays bare an inconvenient truth: despite decades of effort, the world remains caught in the grip of a lethal smoking epidemic. With over 8 million lives lost annually and 1.3 billion smokers worldwide, this thorny public health crisis demands innovative solutions that go beyond traditional control measures.

This year’s index expands its scope to cover 69 countries, accounting for 70% of the global population. The findings paint a fragmented landscape, with nations diverging sharply in their embrace of novel harm reduction methods like vaping, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco products.

The presence of 15 European nations among the top 20 on the list underscores the continent’s commitment to breaking new ground. Countries like the United Kingdom and Sweden have emerged as trailblazers, combining robust policies with a balanced approach to tobacco alternatives. Their stellar rankings highlight the transformative potential of innovation in curbing smoking rates. Meanwhile, the high rankings of nations like the United States, Saudi Arabia, and New Zealand signal a growing global consensus around the value of harm reduction strategies.

Yet, the hard truth is that far too many nations, especially emerging economies like China and India with staggering smoking burdens, remain entrenched in outdated control regimes. Their reluctance to explore safer nicotine products comes at a grave human cost – millions of premature deaths that could have been prevented. This polarized landscape begs the question: how many more reports and studies will it take for the global community to shift its mindset? To truly turn the tide against smoking, a harmonised effort that marries traditional and innovative approaches is urgently needed.

Despite clear evidence of the life-saving potential of harm reduction tools, an air of hesitancy persists, rooted perhaps in the deeply ingrained dogma of tobacco prohibitionism. We must shed such inflexible mindsets, tailoring anti-smoking strategies to diverse cultural contexts while fostering an environment conducive to innovation.

The 2024 index serves as a rallying cry to rekindle our collective resolve. Our path forward lies not in outdated bans, but in an open, evidence-based approach that embraces the full set of tools at our disposal – from robust policies to safer alternatives for those unable to quit.

With the stakes so high, complacency is not an option. Sweden’s success with a wide range of alternative nicotine products and the United Kingdom’s progressive stance on vaping products offer a blueprint for the rest of the world to follow. The time has come to cast aside ideological blinders and face reality: in the war against smoking, our greatest weapon may well be innovation itself.

* Federico N. Fernández is a visionary leader dedicated to driving innovation and change. As the CEO of We Are Innovation, a global network of 40+ think tanks and NGOs, Federico champions innovative solutions worldwide. His expertise and passion for innovation have earned him recognition from prestigious publications such as The Economist, El País, Folha de São Paulo, and Newsweek. Federico has also delivered inspiring speeches and lectures across three continents, authored numerous scholarly articles, and co-edited several books on economics.

4th April 2024