The Second Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) took place in Warsaw in early June
The forum was held under the slogan “A different kind of endgame” and gathered chemists, health professionals, officials, journalists, activists, and representatives of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industry from all over the world from the US to New Zealand and from Norway to South Africa. The meaning of the slogan is immediately clear only to those who have for years fought tobacco, smoking, and nicotine every day, but today understand that nicotine and tobacco is not the same. Nicotine can become an ally in the fight against tobacco, no matter how closely they are connected in the minds of ordinary people, medical doctors, and officials.
The Forum in Warsaw was mostly dedicated to this change of paradigm. Some of the interested communities have already realised what is going on: consumers, businesspeople, and most of the scientific community. Regulators lag behind – and seriously, too. That is the reason for so careful a wording of the slogan: take a look and think, a different kind of endgame is possible, it can already be seen clearly, but one must honestly accept facts and act adequately. The forum was attended by a lot of representatives of regulatory agencies from different countries and even more activists from numerous anti-tobacco and health funds that often determine the policy and practice of regulators. With various degrees of rigidity they were taking in the scientific data, logical arguments, and vaping passion emanating from the scenes and platforms on all floors of the Forum. Some tried to argue and even accuse speakers of partisanship, which is not customary in scientific circles, but others who have not lost the ability to learn gradually accepted the new ideas and got involved in constructive debate.
Such is the general impression of the GFN 2015 in Warsaw. The full programme of the event, CVs of the speakers, and most of the presentations available to the public can be found at www.gfn.net.co. We will not retell them here, but only list briefly the most memorable reports. Hon Lik, a guest of honour at the Forum and the inventor of the e-cigarette, delivered a speech at the opening ceremony which the audience greeted with an ovation, after which he was presented with a Patron of GFN certificate.
The next speech was also ceremonious in part. The Michael Russell Oration, the traditional solemn speech in memory of Professor Michael Russell, was delivered by Dr Derek Yach, head of the first working group to draw up the WHO Framework Convention and chief of staff to the WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland. Prof Russell was a psychiatrist and organised numerous fundamental researches into tobacco addiction, nicotine properties, and smoker behaviour. He was the first to prove that the potential harm of nicotine to the human system is not that significant, but people smoke mostly because of nicotine addiction, receiving toxins and carcinogens as attendant substances as they smoke. Michael Russell prepared the theoretical groundwork for the concept of risk reduction in tobacco products and personally participated in developing alternative nicotine therapies. Today the researcher who died in 2009 is recognised as one of the most outstanding public health scientists of the 20th century. Dr Derek Yach called his commemorative speech in his honour “Defining the Endgame: Why We Must Separate Nicotine from Tobacco Control Policy?” and its gist perfectly reflects the keynote of the discussion at the Forum. The overwhelming majority of conscientious scientific researches of the last few years accumulate more and more evidence confirming the main thesis: e-cigarettes help to give up tobacco and are a gateway from, not to tobacco. However, the media, regulators, doctors, and health activists are still concerned about the implications of e-cigarette use and continue to demand “restricting or prohibiting” ENDS. While he agrees that sometimes ENDS products can be dangerous and contain carcinogens and toxins, Dr Derek Yach says that these aspects can well be settled without a ban on the entire category. “Doctors should more actively recommend it to patients willing to give up smoking of tobacco,” says Derek Yach. “In countries like the US or UK where the incidence of e-cigarettes is highest, the decline in tobacco use has not slowed down, but continues even faster than in other countries.” In Dr Yach’s opinion, today all those who are trying to preserve the 6 million lives of smokers on the planet should be concerned about non-use of e-cigarettes rather than their use. Science and practical experience are definitely in favour of as many tobacco smokers switching to ENDS products as possible.
Speeches by the Greek cardiologist Konstantinos Farsalinos were also memorable. On the first day he presented a report about a careful check on the conscientiousness of a number of scientific papers proving harm of ENDS which he exposed as untrue. He discussed a dozen examples in detail for the audience, emphasising that the falsest papers had affected public opinion most, so they made it much more difficult to get across to the public the actual state of affairs with scientific data on ENDS. The other presentation by Dr Farsalinos was dedicated to the history of ENDS technology development over the past decade.
One must not miss out the speech by Jed Rose of the Duke University School of Medicine (US) which was titled “Modified Risk Products” and proved convincingly with quantitative research why traditional NRT are inferior to ENDS in the eyes (or, more precisely, brains) of consumers.
Another medical doctor, Attila Danko of Australia, delivered an incredibly passionate speech in defence of ENDS (prohibited in Australia), shouting and banging on the stand, and called for an immediate revolution. Danko won not just applause, but a standing ovation. Through a revolution or gradually, step by step, the new paradigm must gain a foothold in the minds of regulators: e-cigarettes and the entire ENDS category is not a new problem for smoking fighters, but unexpected and strong aid prompted by life and smokers themselves.