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SCIENCE: What should we learn from the edition of the Global Forum On Nicotine 2020?

SCIENCE: What should we learn from the edition of the Global Forum On Nicotine 2020?

Each year an important event takes place which concerns nicotine but also vaping. The Global Forum On Nicotine (GFN) organized on June 11 and 12 its seventh edition of the annual World Forum on Nicotine. Organized by "Knowledge Action Change Limited (KAC)"And led by Professor Gerry Stimson, a social science specialist in public health in the United Kingdom, the GFN is a meeting not to be missed for scientists and specialists in nicotine and risk reduction.


Clive Bates. Director of Counterfactual Consulting Limited (Abuja, Nigeria and London, UK).

The Global Forum On Nicotine, usually held in Warsaw, Poland, saw its edition this year held virtually (online) due to Covid-19 (coronavirus). With the theme " Science, ethics and human rights »The Forum brought together more than thirty experts / scientists from the public health sector, the tobacco industry, the tobacco control sector and consumers who discussed various topics, including the relevance of science versus ideology, the importance of a patient-centered approach, the opportunities vaping offers in low-income countries, and the scientific alternatives to conventional tobacco that are banned / unauthorized. 

Numerous scientific studies carried out for years now have revealed that alternatives to traditional tobacco are less harmful than conventional cigarettes. Despite these studies, a number of policy makers at national and international level, notably theWorld Health Organization (WHO), encourage very strict regulatory measures thus denying the possibilities of reducing health risks that non-combustible products offer.

Clive Bates is director of The Counterfactual, a consultancy and advocacy agency focused on a pragmatic approach to sustainability and public health in the UK. According to him, these regulations are "punitive measures, coercion, restrictions, stigmatization, denormalization. This is a failure of what decent policymakers should do, which is to conduct adequate impact assessments and scrutinize them. Policy making is marked by resounding failure at all levels, including government, legislatures, and international organizations such as the World Health Organization».

Experts who participated in the Forum believe that safer nicotine products certainly have a role to play in reducing tobacco-related illnesses. They denounce the institutional obstacles which have been installed for years which, according to them, benefit the status quo and do more harm than good:

«Anyone referring to the history of innovation and the science and technology industry would realize this. Many people are only looking for the status quo.

Mark Tyndall, Professor and Specialist of Infectious Diseases in Canada

Cigarette manufacturers are making a lot of money with the status quo. And there is also huge funding to maintain this status quo. Sweden, Iceland and Norway have the lowest smoking rates in the world. And now in Japan, where a third of the cigarette market disappeared in no time because they had access to alternatives. Consumers opt for alternatives when offered to them"Said at the Forum David Sweanor, Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Center for Health Law of Canada.

Mark Tyndall, Professor and Specialist of Infectious Diseases in Canada, is also very firm on the subject of scientifically tested alternatives to traditional tobacco: " I have always considered smoking cigarettes a form of harm reduction for drug users. Equally distressing, however, was that cigarettes were killing more people than HIV, more than hepatitis C, and even more than the catastrophic overdose epidemic that devastated North America. Death from cigarettes is slow and sneaky. There was not much to offer smokers until the onset of vaping in 2012. Most medical professionals encouraged people to quit. At best, we offered the smokers pockets of nicotine or gum and told them it might help them quit. Eight years later, who would have thought that throwing a lifeline to cigarette smokers would be so contentious. It would have been a highlight. At present, the princip

David Sweanor, Chairman of the Center for Health Law Advisory Board

he public health authorities around the world should have launched global campaigns to rid the world of cigarettes through vaping.»

In addition, many experts have stressed that consumers and patients are at the heart of healthcare systems and that they should know the alternatives and feel free to choose the one that suits them the most.

better. Clarisse Virgino, Philippines vapers advocate pushes for fair regulation of electronic cigarettes in his country: "Ultimately, it is the consumer who will suffer if prohibitionist policies are put in place, as this will deprive smokers of making a change, thereby undermining their basic human rights. The ban will also affect those who have already opted for the switch by forcing them to resume smoking regular combustible cigarettes. It would be really very counterproductive. Alternative products can help control, if not eradicate, smoking. These are less harmful products that can help people quit a bad habit that affects not only smokers but those around them as well. It is unfair. As the saying goes, nothing that concerns us should ever be done without us.»

The tobacco industry was also invited to the Forum. Moira Gilchrist, Vice-President in charge of strategic and scientific communications at Philip Morris International, spoke on this occasion. According to her, " In an ideal world, we were going to have a frank, fact-based conversation about figuring out how to replicate those findings - hinting at the cases of countries like Japan - as quickly as possible in as many countries as possible. Surprisingly we are far from that in the real world. Many public health advocates and public health organizations do not seem willing to objectively assess the desirability of smokeless products. Why? Because these solutions come from industry.»

Clarisse Virgino, Philippines Vapers advocate

Policymakers and political leaders argue that there is an irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry and public health. For Moira Gilchrist, this is "outright scientific censorship" For her, science and evidence are wiser:

«I can't pretend to speak for the entire industry, but at Philip Morris International we are committed to replacing cigarettes with better alternatives as quickly as possible. I really cannot understand why this change is greeted with skepticism. Today, our research and development spending is mainly spent on a smoke-free portfolio. Our goal is to have a smoke-free future. The impact of these products is already visible. A study by researchers working for the American Cancer Society concluded that the recent rapid decline in cigarettes seen in Japan is likely due to the introduction of Iqos, the electronic nicotine device designed by Philip Morris International.».

In low-income countries, electronic nicotine delivery devices (electronic nicotine inhalers) (ENDS) are increasingly used. However, legislation often opposes these alte

Moira Gilchrist, Vice-President in charge of strategic and scientific communications - Philip Morris

rnatives. For example, India recently stopped the sale of electronic cigarettes and other electronic devices citing health risks. Samrat Chowdhery is the Director of the Council for Harm Reduced Alternatives, India. He blamed what he called 'a clear conflict of interest":

« China and India are at the forefront of keeping the procedures of companies that have lost public control over their actions secret and undermine tobacco control efforts globally by making them less transparent and refusing to respect the rights of those most affected by their policies ».

In Africa, many countries apply heavy taxes to prevent electronic nicotine delivery devices from disrupting the market. They also invoke health reasons to justify these very stringent regulations. According to Chimwemwe Ngoma, A social scientist from Malawi, education is the key to properly educating people about what's really at stake: " Government, farmers, civil society organizations and nicotine users need to understand that tobacco is not the real problem, but rather tobacco use. We need to prove that safer products that contain nicotine can be made from the same tobacco ».

Chimwemwe Ngoma, Social scientist, Malawi

Clarisse Virgino, from the Philippines, went even further to say that these measures are very harmful: " Many countries cannot afford to provide adequate health care for their populations. I think it is high time to move on to tobacco harm reduction. There is a large body of data, research work, evidence that supports this thesis. The policies go against the very essence of tobacco harm reduction. It is not consumers who should bear the brunt of arbitrary and unsubstantiated policies. Policies must be protective of people and not destructive to prevent consumers from suffering collateral damage ».

Despite what appears to be a complex struggle, many experts like David Sweanor hope the transformation will eventually happen: " We must also focus on the opportunity presented to us to fundamentally change the course of public health. " , did he declare.

Find out more about the latest edition of Global Forum On Nicotine 2020, meeting on the official website and also on the Youtube channel.

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About the Author

Passionate about journalism, I decided to join the editorial team of in 2017 in order to mainly deal with vape news in North America (Canada, United States).