I am indebted to my good friend Roberto Sussman for the title of this blog. Roberto lives in Mexico and is an unlikely combination of astrophysicist and ardent, eloquent tobacco harm reduction activist. He gave a speech in London on 23rd January 2020 at the launch of the Tobacco Harm Reduction – the Right to Health briefing published by Knowledge•Action•Change and available here: https://gsthr.org/report/2020-briefing-paper
On 10th December 2017, the Director General of the WHO Tedros Ghebreyesus released this statement on Human Rights Day. It was headed “Health is a fundamental human right”. He said:
Anti-tobacco harm reduction campaigners backed by US Federal and state authorities, supportive media and large wodges of Bloomberg cash are about to deliver the worst possible news for millions of American smokers who wish to continue using nicotine while significantly reducing the risk of a premature and painful death.
There is a new tobacco harm reduction (THR) activist group that has started up called ETHRA – European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates, currently with fifteen partners - https://twitter.com/europethra. This is the latest THR advocacy group following in the footsteps of groups now spanning the globe, in Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, India, Canada, USA, Asia and Africa, as well as other European-based organisations and the international agency INNCO.
Not sure if this riff goes anywhere, but with the Amazon on fire, huge storms battering the Caribbean, a memorial service in Switzerland for melting glaciers, animal species lost forever as habitats vanish and thousands out on the streets protesting about climate destruction (forget ‘change’), there are some synergies around the refusal of world health leaders, governments, health practitioners and academics of every stripe, to accept the reality that right now we have a world smoking pandemic that could be massively helped by encouraging the uptake of safer nicotine products. Not only are they sitting on their hands, they are actively lying to the general public and colleagues with all their Big Tobacco (BT) conspiracy theories, fake science, scare-mongering and ad hominin attacks. And anybody who fights back with what used to be called ‘evidence’ is simply dismissed as a BT stooge.
In the 1955 western Bad Day at Black Rock, Spencer Tracy tells Ernest Borgnine, “You’re not only wrong. You’re wrong at the top of your voice”. And so it is with the anti-vaping lobby (or the Faith Militant (FM) as I like to call them – for all you Game of Thrones aficionados) who bellow confusing and misleading information at the top of their lungs in so-called peer reviewed journals and across the global media landscape, adding-in vicious and vile ad hominem attacks on those trying to reduce the death and disease toll from smoking where all else has failed – and where the FM take-down of harm reduction evidence has also failed.
The first statement of the Hippocratic Oath to which all doctors are supposed to adhere to is ‘do no harm’. But to the best of my knowledge, no such undertaking is required of scientists whose findings are often translated into public policy and legislation which in turn affects millions of lives. This is wrong; scientists should be held to account more than just by having peer-reviewed papers argued over which, as the name suggests, only peers are likely to see.
I am just winding down from the whirlwind of activity that is the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) conference held in Warsaw earlier this month. It is a gathering of people from all occupations and disciplines; lawyers, doctors, scientists, economists, consumers, public health officials, nurses and industry to name but a few. Over 600 people from 70 countries, but with one thought in mind: to try and mitigate the worst effects of the global smoking epidemic, through the mechanism of tobacco harm reduction (THR) and within that, an emphasis on the use of safer nicotine products for those who for whatever reason cannot or don’t want to give up nicotine.
Author, journalist and outspoken socialist Upton Sinclair, noted for his exposure of corruption in government and business, wrote that "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it". He used this line in speeches and the book I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked about his campaign for governor of California as a way to explain why the editors and publishers of the major newspapers in California would not treat seriously his proposals for old age pensions and other progressive reforms.
Last week, I was invited to speak at an informal seminar in Portugal under the banner ‘Portugal without smoke’ with a seminar title: Tobacco control and risk reduction: what are the options? The venue and attendees signalled, I thought, a very important step forward in acknowledging the link between tobacco and drug harm reduction.