13 June 2023
Written by: Joseph Magero
In Warsaw this June, The Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) celebrated its 10th edition, with a packed program reflecting on the last decade in safer nicotine use. The event brought together over 400 researchers, public health professionals, policymakers, and advocates to share scientific findings and insights.
This year's theme centered on reflecting on the challenges and successes of tobacco harm reduction over the past decade and sought to identify the priorities for advocates, academics, scientists, policymakers, manufacturers, and distributors in the future.
As usual, the GFN tackled controversial subjects head-on, in respectful debates involving all stakeholders. Public health advocates who attended the forum emphasized evidence-based approaches to nicotine use and policy-making. They revisited the key milestones of the last ten years, assessed today's complex political, regulatory, and scientific environment, and discussed the challenges and opportunities of the future.
Dr. Alex Wodak, a retired physician, hosted a session on reducing the environmental impacts of tobacco harm reduction. The panel included Dr. Colin Mendelsohn, a medical practitioner, academic, and researcher in smoking cessation and tobacco harm reduction for 40 years; who said that 'disposable vapes cause environmental harm but far less than cigarette butts.'
Clive Bates, former Director of Action on Smoking and Health (UK), sought testimonies from the audience on how the last decade can influence and inform the next. Delegates expressed concern as the W.H.O. makes preparations for the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties to the W.H.O F.C.T.C. in Panama City later this year. They called on the World Health Organization (W.H.O) to stop its opposition to the tobacco harm reduction approach and insistence on banning less harmful alternative products, and instead rely on scientific research to support evidence-based policymaking.
Experts were particularly worried about the W.H.O F.C.T.C.'s push for a ban on vapes and other smoke-free alternatives, which would deprive smokers, especially those from L.M.I.C.s, of the most effective means to quit cigarette smoking. 'It is absolutely clear that consumers across the world are demanding lower-risk alternatives,' said Dr. Sud Patwardhan, co-founder of the Centre for Health Research and Education (CHRE).
As GFN 2023 finally came to an end, the comprehensive discussions provided invaluable insights into the facilitators and barriers to smoking cessation and transitioning to low-risk tobacco and nicotine products. The take-home message was, by relying on scientific evidence, we can make more informed, rational, and evidence-based choices that are grounded in the best available knowledge and understanding of the world around us.
This year's winner of the prestigious 2023 Michael Russell Award was Professor Gerry Stimson.