World Heart Day 2023 Symposium

World Heart Day 2023 approaches, aligning with this year’s theme, ‘Striving for Hearts that Beat Strong.’ It serves as a touching reminder to prioritize our heart health. Recently, distinguished Indian and international health experts convened at the prestigious AIIMS, New Delhi, symposium, joining their voices to illuminate the growing global crisis of cardiovascular diseases driven by smoking. Resonating with the essence of this year’s World Heart Day, they highlighted India’s imperative need to embrace innovative and effective harm reduction strategies. These progressive approaches offer a glimmer of hope, holding the potential to significantly diminish the prevalence of smoking-related cardiovascular diseases and usher in an era of healthier hearts throughout the nation.

One of the renowned cardiologists and Padma Shri Awardee, Dr. M. Wali, Senior Consultant, Cardiology, Sir Gangaram Hospital, focused on India’s specific needs, stressing, “Smoking-related cardiovascular diseases cast a worrying shadow on India’s public health. It is high time for the immediate initiation of national comprehensive smoking cessation programs.”

The symposium also featured profound insights from Prof. R. Zimlichman, Director of the Brunner Institute of Cardiovascular Research at Tel-Aviv University, Israel, and Member of the Board of Directors of the Israeli Society for the Prevention of Acute Myocardial Infarction.

Expert from Israel, Prof. R. Zimlichman, providing a global perspective, stated, “Smoking continues to plague our global health, with over a billion individuals partaking. Despite clear ramifications, many find themselves enslaved to their addiction. Focusing on harm reduction, he cited successful examples in countries like the UK, Japan, and the USA, where comprehensive policies and awareness campaigns led to a decline in smoking rates, emphasizing the need for similar strategies in India.”

Dr. Wali further emphasized the need for extensive research on alternatives from an Indian perspective and called for government collaboration to formulate evidence-based policies promoting harm reduction.

Prof. Zimlichman explained, “The new shifts today aim at saving through safer alternatives. Devices that heat, instead of burning tobacco, lead to significantly less damage. Nicotine, though addictive, has not shown direct harm in conventional usage. The shift towards harm reduction is positive, provided it is backed by long-term research and evaluation.”

Highlighting Japan’s success in adopting non-combustible tobacco devices, Prof. Zimlichman stated, “A shift to these devices resulted in a smoking rate decline by an average of 5.2%, with a significant reduction in the disease burden attributable to smoking. These promising results signify the potential for harm reduction strategies.”

The symposium delved into India’s unique healthcare challenges related to smoking and cardiovascular diseases, advocating for nationwide smoking cessation programs and comprehensive research into Indian-context-specific alternatives. The experts stressed the importance of government collaboration in developing evidence-based policies to support harm reduction.

Dr. Kanwal Preet Kochhar, Professor and Head, In-charge Cognitive Neurophysiology & Nutrition Lab, Department of Physiology, AIIMS, New Delhi, and Co-Chair of the symposium, offered valuable insights into India’s broader health challenges. She remarked, “Even in India, we witness young adults in their 30s and 35s experiencing health issues, often due to imbalanced and excessive lifestyles.”

The symposium highlighted the global concern of smoking-related cardiovascular diseases and showcased innovative strategies to address this pressing health challenge. The experts’ consensus emphasized the importance of evidence-based policies, collaborative efforts, and robust awareness campaigns to create a healthier, smoke-free future.

Through this symposium, the joint call for governmental and societal intervention outlines a clear roadmap towards combating the global and national health threat imposed by smoking and associated cardiovascular diseases.