Right at the front of the report it states very clearly that it was “Supported by an unsolicited grant from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. The Foundation played no part in determining the content, analysis, or conclusions in the report and provided input only at the initial concept stage”.
So what did that ‘input’ amount to? Project Director Professor Gerry Stimson went to the Foundation with a copy of the biennial drug harm reduction report he instigated back in 2006 when he was Director of the International Harm Reduction Association. He put the proposition to the Foundation that nobody was attempting to set the record straight for the benefit of politicians, legislators, policy makers, health professionals and consumers over the value of safer nicotine products as a valid option for smokers, and track what was happening with regulation and control across the world. Their ‘input’ was to say ‘OK. Let’s see a plan’. When I was asked to take on the job, the content, tone and style was a completely blank slate. It was down to me to write a report that would be easily understandable by non-experts of whatever discipline; the feedback so far suggests that 129 pages and 300 data sources and references later, the goal was achieved. Nobody tells me what to write or think.
The Foundation never saw a word until it was finished and typeset. But here is the Big Reveal of Big Tobacco Influence. When they eventually read it, they suggested that an extra line space between the paragraphs would make it easier to read. We cringingly agreed, shoved the £5 notes in our socks and genuflected out of the room backwards. See you in Hell.
Another reasonable question was, “Why go to the Foundation in the first place?”. To which the reply is - given the global hysteria over safer nicotine products and the wilful refusal to decouple ‘harm reduction’ from’ tobacco interference’, what funding body would even consider such a bid? What grants officer who actually wanted to keep their job would go to a funding committee with this proposal? Moreover, there are very few academics and clinicians working in the mafia-like world of tobacco control who would publicly support such a bid however sympathetic they might be. We actually had to keep some of our key informants anonymous for that very reason. What a sad state of affairs.
I also had a personal take on this. As Director of Communications and Information for the UK drugs charity DrugScope, I was happy to sit down with those pharmaceutical companies which had a division producing what I regarded as ethical drug harm reduction products of benefit to those that my charity was trying to assist. That could be methadone, buprenorphine, Hepatitis C treatments or sterile injecting equipment. I wasn’t bothered about what other divisions in the company might be doing. I was dealing with that bit of the company that would help drug users and help me to get valuable information out there and host conferences for important networking and information exchange for drug treatment professionals. I don’t see Foundation funding for the report as any different. Additionally, since the late 1990s, the US industry has been paying out millions of dollars to help repair the damage their products have caused (how that money has actually been used is another story). The point here is that if the industry is paying for damage, why shouldn’t it pay to help prevent or lessen the risk of damage in the first place?
There is another angle on the idea that this report is all part of a conspiracy to ‘boost tobacco profits’. I’ve already mentioned the surge in tobacco share prices when the FDA announced a proposal to ban e-liquids and a similar uptick for the Indian Tobacco Company resulting from a government e-cig ban proposal in India. I have also mentioned that some company shareholders are not convinced it’s worth investing in SNP development and marketing given the obstacles placed in the way of bringing products to market.
This was the mood music I was picking up in Geneva. However deep the pockets of Big Tobacco, they are not prepared to go on investing indefinitely in SNP if the legislative noose around the products grows ever tighter. Eventually the big companies will just collectively shrug and go back to basics while the smaller SNP-only companies will simply fold. No doubt there will be lots of mutual back-slapping in certain quarters should that happen, while additional numbers of smokers will die. But then again, is the hostility towards SNP really about public health or is it more about keeping those massive government and philanthropic funds flowing? Did somebody mention ‘influence’?