As Tina Turner said, “Simply the best” – an excellent conference that keeps on delivering. And my big take home message from the whole event was “Run Your Own Race”. This was the concluding slide of Dr Joe Kosterich’s excellent Michael Russell oration – and what it means to me is that the THR community, however defined, needs to move onto the front foot and take the message to the people who don’t sit inside the bubble. And this message, in various ways, ran right through the conference.
Together in one session, we heard Cecilia Kindstrand-Isaksson from Swedish Match say in effect that the devil has currently all the best tunes and that the community needed a more coordinated approach to challenge fake science and prohibitive regulation in the face of a well-orchestrated anti-THR movement. In his end-of-conference reflection, advocate Andy Morrison punctuated his insightful comments with a simple message to his peers to “Stop the in-fighting”. I was also hearing rumblings of frustration that, aside from the PMI CEO André Calantzopoulos, nobody in the industry was putting their head above the parapet in support of tobacco harm reduction: for some it was particularly galling that the independent manufacturing sector seemed to be sitting on its hands and not engaging to try and push with legislators for more THR-friendly control regimes.
To their credit, Colin Mendelsohn and colleagues in Australia are getting out there with the formation of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association. And now is the time to be pushing home the message as a recent poll showed strong support among Australian consumers for the legalisation of vaping despite inevitable establishment push-back. Jeannie Cameron encouraged delegates to not wait for politicians to act, while Konstantinos Farsalinos wanted more THR-supporting clinicians to go into the lion’s den of hostile conferences and challenge the science.
The media love a good human interest story and it is illuminating how such stories can galvanise political debate – the UK saga of Billy Caldwell and the attempts by his mother to get him the cannabis oil he needs to combat dreadful epileptic fits has taken the issue right into 10 Downing Street. In the same way, the good news stories from consumers on how safer nicotine products have saved their lives and how bad laws are causing more misery, should be mobilised with adequate funding and support through all the available platforms, but especially targeting mainstream media. This also applies to the neglected voices, and I was particularly struck by Helen Redmond’s observation that those with serious drug problems can get past heroin or crack use but can still be faced with life-threatening smoking related disease. And this suggested the potential benefit of forging links with drug harm reduction as an intervention which, after initial opposition, has found support among some national and international health organisations.
Another key message for me was “Get On With It”. I heard David Sweanor note that if Steve Jobs had stood in front of his shareholders, held up a prototype iPhone and said, “See this? It’ll take ten years to bring this to market, but then you’ll see something” – he’d have been out the door. The guys from Vapetrotter based in Australia produced a leading edge dynamic consumer website locating every vape shop in the world, alongside comprehensive legal information and a Wiki, all in the space of a few months with more developments to come. It can take decades to bring a medicinal product to market. But Jim Figlar from Kentucky Bio Processing (owned by Reynolds) told how the company produced a highly effective antidote to Ebola in under five years made from…tobacco! Disruptive technology or what? And Martin Jarvis, reflecting on the legacy of Michael Russell, observed how we need more of the fleet-footed research Mike undertook.
And here I digress and officially announce that this is the last time I will be referring to Glanz, Chapman and all their minions. Apparently, as Martin pointed out, the Axis of Evil proudly announced they had evidence that Mike Russell was massaging data in support of Big Tobacco with reference in some document to “Losing records”. As Martin explained, this was actually a reference to the fact that Reynolds wanted to get some products to Mike for testing but were being blocked by UK Customs. All Mike was doing was trying to find a work-around so the products could enter the country. Big deal! Chapman also cast aspersions on what qualifications Dr Kosterich had to talk about tobacco. Well, he’s a GP for a start.
But if we are going to cherry pick documents, how about this from a tobacco harm reduction forum held in Melbourne in 2014. It is interesting that Chapman even admits that there could be a “Best case scenario” even if he trashes it later on:
“In the best-case scenario, there may be a mass and rapid migration of smokers to ENDS, who use them as a cessation aid and eventually succeed, coupled with negligible uptake of ENDS by ex-smokers and never smokers, especially children. Longer-term data would show negligible evidence of ENDS being used as a ‘gateway’ to smoking. Prolonged, frequent and deep inhalation of nicotine over decades would prove to be benign and second-hand exposure to vape assessed as inconsequential to health”.
But anyhoo…I now regard attention-seeking tweets and self-serving anti-THR ‘news’ as so much white noise, that incomprehensible hiss between the in-tune stations of the evidence base and so, while distracting, is nonetheless of no consequence.
And finally, from GFN, the soft launch of the very first Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report written and edited by yours truly, but with the massive assistance of a great team plus lots of help from the pantheon of THR luminaries. The report and the website will be launched in early October. The idea was inspired by the Drug Harm Reduction report inaugurated by our very own Gerry Stimson when he headed up the International Harm Reduction Association and, in the same way, the aim is to produce this report every two years. It is very much a public or forward-facing evidence-based document; hopefully the THR community will be able to use the report to engage with professionals, politicians, regulators and the media to counteract the prevailing anti-THR narrative. Watch out for more details as the launch date approaches.