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.
When I’m not unhealthily hunched over my laptop consuming my nth cup of nuclear coffee, I quite like to relax in front of Star Trek Discovery on Netflix. Gibberish science, cod philosophies and mawkish sentiments notwithstanding, I still find it eminently watchable. Wormholes into parallel future universes often feature, so does dark matter, supremely enigmatic but nevertheless thought to comprise 85% of all the matter in the universe and of course, the world got its first view of a black hole into which all things get sucked but no light appears.
When I was in Australia, my very good friend Dr Alex Wodak took me to one side and, in his typically low key, gentle manner, berated me for my attack on public health prompted by Ron Dworkin’s article on how public health messaging has taken on the mantle of moral crusading (see Blog 83). Alex pointed out all the good that public health has done in improving health in many different areas, not least in tobacco control.
I, along with other colleagues from Knowledge-Action-Change, have just returned from Australia on a trip to showcase the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report and to support our friends in that country battling against monolithic political intransigence fuelled by smears and whispers from ‘public health’ flat earth activists over tobacco harm reduction. I was honoured to speak at two sessions in both the parliaments of Victoria and New South Wales and engaged anybody and everybody prepared to listen, enjoying very welcome support from Melbourne MP Fiona Patten who chaired that session.
This blog unashamedly takes its title from a very interesting article by Ronald Dworkin who is an American anaesthesiologist, teaches political philosophy at George Washington University and is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, where he heads up its Medicine, Society, and Culture project.
I am a big fan of The Guardian; its editorial positioning lines up with my left-liberal views and I have been a regular reader of its articles for many years. Recently it has taken up the cudgels against Big Tobacco, which at one level is strange because in most of the countries where the paper is read, smoking has been in steep decline with the companies on the legal backfoot time and again, for instance, regarding new legislation about plain packaging. More generally, the long and tawdry history of tobacco company deceit is hardly news.
The celebrity chef and healthy food activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall interviewed a director who was making a TV campaign to encourage kids to eat more vegetables. The director said that when he told people he was doing this their first response was ‘OK. What’s the twist? What evil company is behind this?’. And that is a perfectly understandable response when major food and drinks companies promote breakfast cereals, fizzy drinks and snacks loaded with sugar directly to children, and every type of store from supermarkets to garden centres have sweets and chocolates deliberately sited near the check-out to put pressure on parents.
Happy New Year to you all as Britain prepares to go one better than the US by building a wall round the country and shutting it down all at the same time.
The blog title is a quote from Hamlet written by W. Shakespeare and set in Denmark because Bill ripped off an old Danish story for his plot. Even so, it’s a pity that the Danish authors of a paper basically alleging that all pro-vaping studies are compromised by associations with the tobacco industry, couldn’t have taken this quote to heart. In fact, so far from the truth is it, that the ever-estimable Carl Phillips has written the most damning indictment of a paper purporting to be ‘peer-reviewed’ that I have ever read. Because if you thought that conflict of interest only applied to academics supping at the table of commerce, then read on. It’s only 4th January as I write, but Carl’s review might already qualify as the ‘must-read’ of 2019. His forensic dissection of this eye-watering farrago of Danish anti-tobacco harm reduction nonsense is awesome. It’s long, but don’t stint yourself.
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.