Policymakers in public health and tobacco control need to listen to both the science on tobacco harm reduction and the experiences of consumers who are benefiting from it every day. Ideology must be set aside to prioritize progress toward the common goal of ending smoking. Those were some of the messages conveyed during the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN), which took place June 16–18 in Liverpool, U.K.
Gerry Stimson, Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London and a founder of the GFN, said that much of what she has seen and heard during the event was encouraging.
“It feels as though we’re on the right trajectory,” he said. “Consumers all over the world are becoming aware of the opportunities offered by safer nicotine products, and innovations in the market will, I believe, lead to the eventual obsolescence of combustible cigarettes,” she said. “The question is how to speed up the process and scale up so that tobacco harm reduction reaches all smokers, everywhere, as quickly as possible.”
Multiple panel discussions took in subjects ranging from safer nicotine product regulation, tobacco harm reduction in low-income to middle-income countries and orthodoxy and dissent in science. Speakers’ prerecorded presentations for the panel sessions will remain available online at the conference website.
Three keynotes were delivered to honor Michael Russell, a psychiatrist, research scientist and pioneer in the study of tobacco dependence and the development of treatments to help smokers quit. Russell’s observation in the British Medical Journal in 1976 that “people smoke for nicotine, but they die from the tar” remains highly influential within the field.
The speeches honoring Russel focused on harm reduction and were given by Fiona Patten, leader of Australia’s Reason Party; Jon Fell, founder of investment company Ash Park; and Derek Yach, president of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.
“In Australia, governments have consistently stated that drug use must be treated as a health issue not a criminal one. But when it comes to nicotine, they are actively making criminals out of users,” Patton said. “For decades, they ignored the science about the dangers of smoking, but today, they argue that there is not enough science to sanction alternative nicotine products.”
GFN does not receive any sponsorship from manufacturers, distributors or retailers of nicotine products, including pharmaceutical, electronic cigarette and tobacco companies. Participants include consumers, policymakers, academics, scientists and public health experts alongside representatives from manufacturers and distributors of safer nicotine products.
The event organizers believe that dialogue and strategic engagement of all stakeholders involved in tobacco and nicotine use, control and production are the only way to effect true, sustainable change—both to industry practices and the public health outcomes related to smoking.