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.
What? Patience dear reader and bear with me.
This week the MPs on the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology released their favourable report on e-cigarettes. UK Channel 4 News brought together Deborah Arnott, Director of Action on Smoking and Health and Professor Martin McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
JUUL e-cigarettes have taken the American e-cigarette market by storm, capturing over 70% of the US market in extremely short time. Because of the huge publicity generated and much media hand-wringing in editorials, features and op-eds (often quoting diehard anti-tobacco harm reduction activists about the alleged risk to young people), this has no doubt fuelled interest in these devices by the same cohort. Much the same happened in the UK regarding LSD in the 1960s and glue sniffing in the USA during the 1970s; moral panic followed by accelerated interest.
In the litigious-hungry environment of the USA, there have been legal threats made to JUUL, and they seem to have responded by claiming that they have a way of restricting access by young people through using a Bluetooth-enabled age-verification system. This might sound like a ‘good thing’, but is it?
I wonder if there is now a new ‘moral panic’ about fake news. UK MP’s among others seem to think that fake news is undermining democracy. I’m not sure I’dgo that far (yet). I get most of my news from the BBC (including the excellent World Service) and I’m reasonably confident that the BBC can tell real news from fake news. What they decide to report on is another matter, but I do trust this news source and they are careful to say when some news story (usually reports of an atrocity somewhere in the world) cannot be independently verified. However, if you get your news from Willy Wonka’s News Blog or the social media equivalent of ‘my mates in the park’, then that may well be a different matter.
Over the years, the major companies have faced endless law suits on the basis that they both lied about the dangers of their products while also withholding information they knew would prove the cases against them. Eventually in the USA, the companies settled through the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement which means they will be paying forever. Although product liability must have been an important part of the litigation, manufacturing, selling and promoting cigarettes was not a crime. So key to the issue was the companies’ responsibilities to their consumers, in other words, issues of morality, ethics and rights.
As the first global state of tobacco harm reduction report is now in the tender care of the copy editors, time to cast an eye once again on the wacky world of THR.
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.