This will be my last blog of 2018. In 2019, I enter year 40 of working in the drugs field, currently as Director of DrugWise, an online drug information service, and as a member of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the Secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prescribed Drug Dependence. The drugs work continues, but little did I know when the charity I worked for, DrugScope, fell over in 2015, that 2019 would also be the year when I would be part of a team taking the message of tobacco harm reduction across the world.
Been dazed and confused for so long it's not true
Wanted a Marlboro, never bargained for you
Lots of people talking and few of them know
Soul of an e-cig was created below, yeah
(With apologies to Led Zeppelin)
So here is how you con smokers, the public, the media and the politicians into believing that safer nicotine products are no safer than cigarettes. The basic framework is pulled from the interweb, so can be applied to many areas of public discourse but resonates with operatic clarity in the world of tobacco harm reduction. Italics are my additions or paraphrasing. Here we go…:
In breaking news, alcohol is really not a safe drug. It is a major cause of non-communicable death and disease; for example, over time it can damage many of your vital organs in ways that no other drugs can, including heroin. Addiction to alcohol can wreck individual lives and the lives of families and loved ones. It is a significant factor in domestic violence and the whole gamut of anti-social behaviour and public disorder. People kill people under the influence of alcohol whether running them over in a car or shooting them in a booze-fuelled rage.
No, I’m not proposing one, but referring to the outcome of the recent WHO Global Conference on Primary Health Care in Astana, Kazakhstan which produced the Astana Declaration. Of itself it isn’t a charter for tobacco harm reduction (THR), but if the WHO is seriously committed to delivering on its vision and not just cherry-picking the areas of health care that suit the organisation and its funders, then it is certainly a template for THR.
A Freedom of Information request was sent recently to the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) asking for data on reports of adverse effects of nicotine.
The MHRA has an online system called Yellow Card scheme https://yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk/ where anybody can report any adverse effects they have suffered through taking a medicine or which have been reported by doctors or other health professionals. The MHRA is also responsible for collecting data on adverse reactions to e-cigarettes even though the products are not classified as medicines.
OK I am not surprised that the report I wrote with a team of honest and dedicated people gets summarily dismissed by the Bloomberg shills at the FCTC and all their cronies as simply a product of ‘tobacco influence’. But that doesn’t stop me from fuming. Ordinarily I would dismiss this as so much white noise, but I was asked in Geneva by a member of the Framework Convention Alliance, who was genuinely interested, what role Big Tobacco or more specifically the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World played in the production of the report. So here goes.
Tuesday 2nd October saw the launch of the inaugural edition of No Fire, No Smoke: the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report. The launch took place in Geneva close to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
It is a central tenet of those opposed to tobacco harm reduction as it applies to safer nicotine products that the whole thing is a massive con trick by Big Tobacco to both entice kids to move onto regular daily smoking and inveigle ex-smokers to take up the habit once more. The purpose of e-cigarette promotion they argue, is to ‘boost Big Tobacco profits’. Well as things stand, BT are doing a piss poor job of ‘boosting their profits’; total global turnover of all products among all companies whether Big, Middling or Little Tobacco probably accounts for less than 2% of cigarette sales. Indeed, I have heard that shareholders in some of the biggest companies look askance at their CEO asking, ‘why are the hell are we bothering with this?’
Yes, it’s nearly here folks, now safely in the hands of the printer is the very first global report covering all aspects of tobacco harm reduction. GSTHR will be launched in Geneva on 2nd October to coincide with the start of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It will be downloadable from a new website where you will also find executive summaries in several languages. The website is being engineered to be interactive and regularly updated with information about legislation, what’s happening with tobacco harm reduction in every country, and much more. The ambition is for the report to be updated every two years, while we are looking to build the website into the global go-to resource for current, evidence-based and non-judgemental information about tobacco harm reduction.
Between 2001 and 2003, US lawyer Greg Jacob was a member of the US delegation charged with negotiating the terms of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). I know I do have readers outside of the tobacco harm reduction community, so a bit of back story.
The WHO decided in the mid-1990s that the public health community’s long-standing fight against the iniquities of global Big Tobacco needed a legislative response that was equally global. After many years of tortuous negotiations, the FCTC came into force in 2005 and was a singular event in UN history; the world’s first global public health treaty, signed by 168 countries in the first year and now ratified or acceded to by 181 countries known in the Convention as Parties. These Parties have a legal obligation to implement the provisions of the FCTC and to participate in a biennial Conference of the Parties (COP). COP 8 is due to be held in Geneva next month.