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INTERVIEW: Meeting with Zhou Zhenyi, the only official French speaker of 6me Global Forum On Nicotine

INTERVIEW: Meeting with Zhou Zhenyi, the only official French speaker of 6me Global Forum On Nicotine

It was the event not to be missed in June! The 6th edition of the Global Forum On Nicotine was therefore held in Warsaw (Poland) from 13 at 15 June 2019 and had for motto It's time to talk about nicotine". For the occasion lawyers, researchers, policy experts and consumers were on hand to discuss the latest research and regulatory barriers to reducing the risk of smoking. The only French speaker officially invited by the GFN organization, Zhou Zhenyi gives us his feedback and his impressions on this last edition.

INTERVIEW WITH ZHOU ZHENYI - OFFICIAL SPEAKER AT GFN19 : Hello, Can you introduce yourself and explain the reason for your presence at Global Forum on Nicotine?

Zed : My name is Zhou Zhenyi but I am most often nicknamed by my pseudonym "Zed". I am a tobacconist in the 4th arrondissement of Paris and specialize in reducing smoking risks. I was present at the GFN as an official speaker, a counter expert, in particular in increasing the motivation of smokers towards reduced risk products.
It was an honor for me to be invited and to be able to present my work. I also felt very proud to represent my country as the only French presenter this year. I also greatly enjoyed attending the various conferences that detailed the latest work of the biggest names in research and tobacco reduction activism. : What was the purpose of your intervention ?

I have invested a lot in reducing the risks of smoking since I learned about the subject a little over 18 months ago. By investing myself in it, I rediscovered my profession and I found a new pleasure in running the counter day after day. It is extremely rewarding to help others, it is indeed the peculiarity of human nature. Man is a gregarious animal, we need this human contact. Helping others is even a basic human need. Indeed, the action of helping creates a delivery of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, the hormones of the reward, pushing us then to continue this cycle of mutual aid which structures our way of living in society. It's literally written in our genes.

Very quickly, I created a blog, a YouTube channel and managed or managed working groups on Facebook or Wechat, according to everyone's preferences. These working groups only bring together professionals and create a real leverage effect in terms of the creation of effective sales outlets in the dissemination of information on the reduction of smoking risks.

Indeed, I think we are losing the media battle over the true information of reduced risk products. The idea was therefore to inform smokers directly, one by one, in the field, in tobacco shops directly. They are given targeted information bypassing the traditional media. Through the proximity that a merchant creates with his regulars, we manage to establish a constructive dialogue and, little by little, smokers realize that there is an efficient and inexpensive choice between smoking and quitting dry. »: The reduction of smoking risks which today focuses mainly on vaping but not only. : What do you mean by the phrase "mainly on the vape but not that »?

I'm also talking about heated tobacco and Snus. Hot tobacco is often criticized because it comes from "Big Tobacco". However, you have to be realistic and look at the facts. Heating tobacco is recognized by a large number of specialists, the same as for vaping, as a reduced risk tool. Dr Farsalinos was talking about it on Facebook during a live and it was absolutely no debate at the GFN.

Unfortunately, in its current form, heated tobacco is rather marginalized in the French arsenal of tools at our disposal: devices that can be improved on several levels and the price of consumables is almost as high as cigarettes.

As for Snus, it is tobacco or nicotine to diffuse. This comes in a small sachet no larger than a chewing gum that is positioned between the gum and the upper lip. It's very discreet and devilishly effective. Sweden has already achieved its goal of a smoke-free society by achieving a 5% smoking rate. This Nordic country also has the lowest rate of lung cancer among men in Europe! This is not the case with women because, when we look at the statistics a little more closely, we see that the population that consumes Snus is made up mainly of men.

By seeing such numbers, we can not ignore the impact of Snus, it is a complementary offer in the tools that can be offered to smokers. I have been fighting for months with the #euforsnus movement to legalize the product in the European Union where the product is banned (except in Sweden so). In November 2018, the movement had managed to go to the European Court of Justice to lift the ban. Unfortunately, it has been maintained. For those wishing to join the movement, there is a European Facebook group with which we will continue to promote the legalization of Snus in Europe. : In view of the products offered, the tobacco companies were also present at the show ?

Yes, especially the scientific branches of several tobacco companies who mainly attended the various discussions. It was interesting to talk to them on a scientific level and discuss the research they have already done.

So, yes, I can understand the controversy that exists in France in particular by opposing the vaping industry to that of tobacco. However, if I place myself strictly on the side of the consumer and therefore the smoker, I welcome the arrival of these financial funds from tobacco to vaping. I much prefer to see these funds invested in risk reduction, whether by buying or investing in companies defending vaping very effectively like Juul or in research that only these companies have the capacity to lead on several levels: epidemiological studies , the relative toxicology of all the compounds, in particular the flavors, or even lobbying with governments, but in the right direction this time. For example, in New Zealand, which aims for a target of 5% smokers by 2025, Philip Morris has made a big leap forward in the fight against smoking by legalizing heated tobacco. In this breach, the Snus and the vape have entered and allowed to have a very optimistic horizon towards a smoke-free society. : We could therefore trust the tobacco industries ?

Let me be clear, I am not an advocate for "Big Tobacco" but, as a public advocate and advocate for tobacco risk reduction, I take help where it comes from. It is obvious that mistrust is prevalent in the information disclosed by the tobacco industry. After all, who does not remember the American anti-trust lawsuits where all the presidents of the various cigarette companies denied the addiction created by their products?

What is important is that speech and actions remain free. Let us judge the content of what is reported above all whether it is an article, a video or a study. Only the facts matter. We still have between 12 and 14 million smokers in France, I don't think I have the luxury of choosing this or that support. What matters is that smokers are informed of the choices that exist on the market: mainly vaping, perhaps Snus tomorrow and why not heating tobacco in a more efficient and successful version?

Take the example of Juul who received $ 12.8 billion from Altria. Has Juul at a single moment turned away from its mission of wanting to migrate smokers to its product which is a product of the vape? No. On the contrary, these funds have allowed this society to grow stronger and accelerate the movement towards a smoke-free world.

There was also a whole conference on this “funding matters” subject: it is much more important that the person or organization having received the funds be transparent rather than the “cleanliness” of the source.

Marewa Glover presented this perfectly by showing in pictures the origins of funding. If it is from the tobacco industry, the source is considered tainted. If it comes from the government through reinvested taxes, it would come from the sky! What matters, when you think pragmatically, is that the sources exist and not their origin.

Moreover, the source of funds does not guarantee action for the benefit of consumers or even risk reduction. Take for example the action of the "Truth and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids" movement in the United States, which was one of the driving forces behind the ban on the San Francisco vape and those to come in other states US. : What did you like most during this GFN ?

Two crucial points: the exchanges with so many people passionate about their work and the fact of completely leaving the Franco / French vision to better understand the phenomenon at the global level:
- By talking with African activists, we realize a little more the reality of things, especially in Malawi and Nigeria
- There was also Australia where Dr Attila Danko tries to circumvent the ban on the sale of liquids containing nicotine.
- Rebecca Ruwhiu-Collins works with the Maori population in New Zealand by strongly involving her community for the democratization of vaping and by placing at the center of consumer actions the values ​​of the Maori that resonate effectively with the people targeted. Further proof that vaping is an alternative to smoked tobacco pushed by consumers. - In the United States and United Kingdom, several studies have been carried out with the working classes who smoke the most and who therefore most need to be addressed to them.
- With James Dunworth co-founder of, it was interesting to see the similarities that we had in our two countries on the need to inform correctly but also to apply basic principles for a greater efficiency in quitting smoking: tight draft, high nicotine level.

To conclude, I think that we will not be able to convince people to defend themselves. Knowledge can not be enforced by force in a brain, it must be absorbed from within, with the consent of the person. Before you can build an idea in someone's mind, you need his permission, which is basically normal.

One of the pillars of harm reduction, and not just smoking, is “Enpowerment”, literally the power to decide for oneself. For a smoker, the path always begins with the conscious decision to try a reduced risk product. This is when all the expertise will come in to provide the keys to success through shared information.

We thank Zhou Zhenyi for his participation in this interview, find him on his official blog. To find out more about the latest edition of the Global Forum On Nicotine, we invite you to consult our full article on the subject.

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About the Author

Editor-in-chief of, the reference site for vaping news. Engaged in the world of vaping since 2014, I work every day to ensure that all vapers and smokers are informed.