Global Forum on Nicotine – Day 1

Day one of the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) took place online today with a great turnout.

It’s been a tough year for vapers. We’ve had the misleadingly entitled ‘evali’ (e-cigarette and vaping related lung injury) problem in the US and the growing concerns about youth vaping and bans on flavours in the US. How did things get so bad for vapers?

A great line up of speakers and some of the biggest names in tobacco harm reduction filled a day packed with great insights. If you want a short run down of some of the key contributions, read on, I’ve given my takeaways from each speaker just below.

Reflecting on the great first day of GFN, I’m left with a point from Louise Ross, Leicester City Stop Smoking Service, in my head. “Less smoking means more birthdays” she said. Too true, Louise. That hits the nail on the head and it’s what it’s all about.

Tomorrow will see a whole host of more great speakers take the floor and I’m looking forward to wrapping up my thoughts here again then.


First up was Clive Bates (UK). He is a director of the Counterfactual, a consulting and advocacy practice focussed on a pragmatic approach to sustainability and public health, and formerly a director at ASH (Action on Smoking and Health). The mission has switched, he said. The focus used to be on saving lives. The media is a big part of the problem, he said. The rise of social media, and the knock on financial impact on traditional media has pushed the media to be clickbait-driven. This means a hysterical story about the dangers of vaping will get a lot more play than a reasoned assessment of vaping.

Will Godfrey, founding editor of Filter magazine focused purely on the media. Media antipathy to tobacco harm reduction isn’t unique, he said. It’s a very similar narrative to what we’ve seen in the past about drugs. In the 80s/90s the media talked about a crack cocaine epidemic. Same with opioid use. It is sensationalised, just as the coverage of vaping is.

Marewa Glover (New Zealand) is Director of the independent Centre of Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking based in Auckland, New Zealand. She is also a scientific adviser to INNCO and a powerful voice in the vaping community, Glover pointed out how activists from the tobacco control community aren’t worried about scientific rigour. What’s unscientific is the way science is often used by policymakers. They see three studies that are anti vaping and two that are pro, and use this basic comparison to assess the strength of arguments on the two sides. That’s scientifically bogus, she said.

Clarisse Virgino from the Philippines is a law student and a member of the Coalition of Asia-Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA). She told GFN attendees that prohibition makes consumers collateral damage. It’s disastrous to introduce bans, she said. Not only does it push vapers back to cigarettes, it encourages a black market in vaping which can result in dangerous material being sold to unsuspecting vapers.

Dr Mark Tyndall (Canada) is a professor at UBC School of Population and Public Health and an infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist with a focus on urban health, drug use and harm reduction. The invention of vaping should have been a slam dunk, he said. But it hasn’t been. Instead a zero tolerance approach to nicotine took hold. Smokers are told they must reach rock bottom in order to change their ways. There’s also a lack of empathy towards smokers.

John Oyston criticised health authorities for being hypocritical. He said that they don’t support tobacco harm reduction policy despite the fact that it can save millions of lives worldwide. Oyston said the CDC didn’t give consumers the right info about the outbreak of illicit THC-linked vaping lung injuries. He said that this scared people back into smoking.

Samrat Chowdhery questioned whether there is a conflict of interest for the state, which profits from and often owns the tobacco industry. He asked what their incentive is to actually reduce smoking.

Greg Conley said Bloomberg philanthropies has given more than a billion dollars to the anti-tobacco harm reduction fight. He said that that money could have been used to fight traditional cigarettes. On anti-vaping campaigns, Conley said there are powerful forces that will not stop. « They are well-funded. The only way to fight back…is with the help of people like you.”

Fiona Patten called for politicians to lead the political agenda, but to be informed at every step by the experts. She called for politicians to be empowered with scientific data and case studies.

Finally Louise Ross (UK) gave the Michael Russell Oration to close the first day of the conference. Louise gave a passionate speech about her work on the front line, trying to help people quit smoking. She ran the Leicester City Stop Smoking Service for many years. She explained how initially she was sceptical about vaping, but having seen first-hand how much more effective vaping is than traditional forms of nicotine replacement therapy (gum, patches etc) she became a fan. She warned that efforts to curb vaping are dangerous because they will drive people back to cigarettes.