Background: We previously estimated the impact of introducing heat-not-burn products and e-cigarettes in Germany on smoking-related disease mortality in men and women aged 30–79 years between 1995 and 2015. Here, we estimate the impact by socioeconomic group.
Methods: Individuals with a defined baseline cigarette smoking distribution were followed under a “Null Scenario” (no reduced-risk products) and “Alternative Scenarios” (reduced-risk products introduced). Transition probabilities allowed estimation of annual product use changes, with individual product histories used to estimate reductions in deaths and life-years lost. Here, however, individuals were classified into two socioeconomic groups defined by income and education, with allowance for variation by group in initial smoking prevalence and the probability of changing product use, or of changing socioeconomic group.
Results: With no allowance for socioeconomic group, deaths would have reduced by 217,000 (from 852,000 for continued smoking) had everyone immediately ceased smoking in 1995 and by 40,000 to 179,000 had one or two types of reduced-risk products – the heat-not-burn product and the e-cigarette – been adopted by smokers to varying extents. With such allowance, we estimate substantial drops in each socioeconomic group. Where all cigarette smokers switched immediately, half of them to heat-not-burn products, half to e-cigarettes, the estimated drops in deaths were 60,000 in group A (higher socioeconomic group) and 122,000 in group B (lower), about 82% of the drops associated with immediate cessation (73,000 in A and 148,000 in B). With more gradual conversion, the drops were 26,648 in A and 53,000 in B, about 35% of those from cessation. The drops in deaths and life-years saved were about 2 and 1.5 times higher in group B, respectively, associated with its greater numbers, older age, and higher smoking prevalence. The estimated reductions would increase upon considering more diseases, a wider age range, or longer follow-up. Methodological limitations would not affect the conclusion that introducing these products in 1995 in Germany could have substantially reduced deaths and life-years lost in both groups, more so in B.
Conclusions: Although cessation is optimal for reducing mortality, switching to reduced-risk products also provides substantial health gains. A public health approach encouraging lower socioeconomic group smokers to switch to reduced-risk products could diminish smoking-related health inequalities relative to continued smoking.