Despite the documented health and financial costs of cigarette smoking, smoking remains a significant public health concern in Tennessee. In 2008, Tennessee enacted strict non-smoking laws to curb smoking, with several counties and state divisions prohibiting cigarettes, cigars, and other combustible tobacco products in enclosed public places with only a few exceptions. However, years after this resolution, smoking rates in Tennessee remain among the top ten highest in the US, about 4% above the national average of 11.5%.
This development urges state government officials to update tobacco policy and tighten smoking bans for public health and safety. In response to policy changes, Tennessee residents have also begun seeking smoke-free alternatives to help them quit and transform their lifestyles.
New legislations in public smoking
The 2008 smoking law in Tennessee prohibited smoking in all enclosed public places within the state, including but not limited to restaurants, public and private schools, healthcare facilities, hotels and motels, shopping malls, and common areas in residential buildings. This was named the “Non-Smoker Protection Act” in an attempt to minimize the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke, which include lung disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
In 2022, a coalition of creative professionals and hospitality workers called Musicians for a Smokefree Tennessee pushed legislation to include age-restricted establishments, like bars and entertainment venues, in the smoking ban in Nashville. The law eventually took effect on March 1, 2023, after the group lobbied and had Nashville Mayor John Cooper sign the legislation. Such regulatory changes further push smokers in Tennessee to quit, not just through the cold turkey approach but also through smoke-free alternatives that help boost cessation rates, as discussed below.
Quitting through smoke-free alternatives
While cigarette bans have contributed to the rise of electronic cigarettes or vaping products, these remain harmful to individual and public health. E-cigarettes emit aerosol, which is addictive and can expose individuals to respiratory effects similar to traditional cigarettes when inhaled. Thus, smokers attempting to quit can consider nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which includes products like the Blip nicotine gum and lozenges.
These FDA-approved oral nicotine products can help satisfy smokers’ oral fixation habits and cravings by delivering small, controlled doses of nicotine to the brain. They are also considered harm-reduction tools since they contain nicotine but not the toxic chemicals found in cigarettes and vapes. Blip products are sold at CVS locations across the country, making them an accessible smoke-free alternative.
Aside from gums and lozenges, nicotine pouches are also a viable option for NRT through their discreet delivery format. Although pouches are relatively new in the oral product category, Prilla’s post on nicotine pouch ingredients illustrates how they share similar smoke-free properties as other NRTs by only containing nicotine, flavorings, plant-based materials, and pH adjusters that dictate the product intensity and rate of release. Among the most popular nicotine pouch brands in the US are ZYN and On!, as they have various flavor and strength options and have both offline and online distribution channels.
As previously mentioned, NRTs as smoke-free alternatives are already available to Tennessee residents via pharmacies, convenience stores, and online retailers. However, the Tennessee Department of Health provides free NRT products like patches, gums, and lozenges to help smokers quit and live smoke-free lifestyles. Through the Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, smokers can also take advantage of free coaching services, where they can speak confidentially with a trained coach on creating a quit plan, dealing with cravings and withdrawals, and successfully quitting forever.
Overall, the availability of smoke-free alternatives in the form of oral NRTs makes it more possible for Tennesseans to adhere to strict smoking laws and successfully stop smoking. The state government and health department must then coordinate to increase the public’s awareness of and access to these alternatives to further bring down smoking rates.