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.
Nowadays, there is a view that such a gathering of like-minded people is just another echo chamber where we are all agree and partake of a massive hug-fest. But we certainly do not all agree on everything and passions can run high especially on issues such as campaigning and advocacy strategies. And yet, there are many people who have come to regard GFN as a safe space because in their own countries, their commitment to harm reduction is greeted with much hostility to the extent of putting careers and livelihoods in jeopardy. Increasingly, it seems that the shock troops of the tobacco control jihad now regard anybody advocating tobacco harm reduction as simply a stooge of Big Tobacco which effectively ends conversations and can finish off jobs and funding.
The conference heard some truly despicable stories in this vein; probably the worst one was the cowardly and underhand (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to wreck the chances of Professor Marewa Glover from being nominated for New Zealander of the Year Award because she was in receipt of grant-aid from the Foundation for a Smoke Free World. Professor Glover is committed to research on tobacco harm reduction in the interests of her own indigenous communities and those in other parts of the world, is a sterling and convincing advocate for their human rights and richly deserved the nomination.
The fear that becoming involved in THR work can engender was exemplified by Dr David Abrams, recipient of this year’s Michael Russell Award for his outstanding contribution to THR science. Having spent 40 years as a respected clinician and scientist, with over 300 peer-reviewed articles to his credit and an award for his Tobacco Dependence Handbook, he says he now has young researchers saying to him that they don’t want to work in THR because they fear the consequences for their careers. What an appalling state of affairs for the future of scientific and clinical endeavour in this field.
These examples highlight a Catch-22 that harm reduction researchers can find themselves in. Because THR is viewed with such suspicion, it can be very hard to get funding from traditional sources. So, in order to do your work, you turn to whatever sources of funding are receptive – and an organisation like the Foundation might be your only option. And then instead of your work being judged purely on its scientific merit, it gets rubbished purely on the basis of its funding source. The irony of this is that when it comes to government funding, especially in the USA, the only way the money flows in your direction is if you are setting out to demonstrate the harms that vaping causes. Conflict of interest or what?
Alongside the personal attacks, I picked up on a number of examples, mainly from Latin America, as it happened, where the intransigence of the WHO has given ‘authority’ to outrageous lies, repressive actions and downright insanity. In Mexico, the health authorities published an opinion on safer nicotine products which claimed that:
“The safety of ENDS [Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems} has not been demonstrated in the short term, much less in the long term”
“Safety has also not been documented for non-smokers/consumers exposed to vapour/aerosols….toxins and carcinogens are released by ENDS”.
“Most ENDS users have never smoked, but they experiment and then become users and nicotine addicts…one of the most important population risks of these new systems is the increase in the number of smokers of traditional cigarettes”.
When the authorities in Argentina went in to seize vaping devices and liquids, they rocked up in hazmat suits. And there was the case of the Brazilian vaping blogger who was fined for ‘advertising’ on his site, not brands of devices or liquids, but simply on the basis of naming the generic types of THR options like ‘e-cigarette’ and ‘heat-not-burn device’.
But on a more positive note, I noticed recently that the judiciary in different parts of the world have not been taken by the fake news of tobacco control and actually looked at the evidence to adjudicate in favour of THR. The Quebec Superior Court ruled that the state has the right to legislate vaping, but a provision banning the demonstration of products in shops or smoking cessation clinics goes too far. In Switzerland, Parliament will be asked to lift the ban on snus while in New Zealand, a court judge could not square the circle of having tobacco legislation aimed at reducing the harms of tobacco and then banning a product that does just that.
And almost finally back to GFN where as I say, it can be regarded as just another echo chamber. The difference is that unlike some international tobacco conferences I could name, there are no ‘rules’ as to who can or cannot speak or attend. GFN could be a safe space for anybody and everybody who wants to come and debate the issues in a sane and sensible manner, especially politicians and legislators. In fact this year, to her massive credit, Australian MP Fiona Patten both attended and spoke.
And finally…if you are going to San Francisco, be sure not to wear some flowers in your hair. They will probably be banned along with e-cigarettes, cigarettes, cannabis, alcohol, hot dogs….and possibly dogs. Timothy Leary’s ashes will be spinning in the space capsule that launched them into the void back in 1997.
If you want to get the full flavour of what you missed, go to the GFN YouTube channel
And here are links to some commentaries on the Conference:
GFN 2019 - Where Science and Policy Meet: Planet of the Vapes
Climbing Mountains: The Global Forum on Nicotine 2019: E-Cigarette Direct
Global Forum on Nicotine 2019, Rapide Retour: Zed Le Buraliste
Smoking Prevalence Dips in Countries Where People Switch to Safer Nicotine Products: Manila Standard
Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction Report: Reddit
Experts Underline Need for Harm Reduction at Global Forum on Nicotine: Bio Spectrum
Global Forum on Nicotine Asserts Urgency of Tobacco Harm Reduction: Filter
Global Forum to Examine Use of Safer Nicotine Products: Business Medical Dialogues
Global Experts to Debate on Use of Safer Nicotine Products: Business Standard
Indian doctors debate e-cigarette ban in global nicotine forum: The Week
10 Things I Learned From the Global Forum on Nicotine 2019: E-Cigarette Reviewed
Top scientists of the world talk about snus at GFN 2019: YouTube
Snus can aid global tobacco harm reduction - GFN Film Festival 2019: YouTube