By Paul Barnes
The location – Warsaw, Poland. The event – the Global Forum on Nicotine. The third of such events, a place where regular consumers, medical professionals, academics, policy makers and industry representatives come together to present and discuss the highly polarised use of nicotine.
The aim of GFN? Transparency. Participants from 55 different countries attended the event to listen to the evidence and to discuss its implications in policy. With such a wide ranging group of attendees, GFN was once again a successful event crafted to address three critical issues: Evidence, Accountability and Transparency.
Prior to the event itself was of course the European Premiere of Aaron Biebert’s A Billion Lives documentary film, which met or exceeded the expectations of many that were able to watch it. Reviewed as “the most ambitious film yet made about vaping, but it’s so much more than that” sums up the general feeling of all viewers – vapers and non-vapers alike.
The conference itself, like the last two years, wasn’t just about the plenary sessions, or any other session. They were a part of a much greater whole. The ability to sit and talk to those presenting in the sessions. Asking questions and networking with academics, policy makers and industry professionals made GFN a successful event.
Officially starting with the Michael Russell Oration, skilfully presented by Associate Professor Marewa Glover of Massey University – entitled “Pioneering with compassion” highlighted the tone of sessions to come, the focus being more on “how can we do this” instead of “should we do this”.
Professor Glover suggested that perhaps existing technologies can be repurposed in understanding the benefits of nicotine and in an effort to lower the barriers for those who want to switch to lower risk nicotine products.
Evidence became a key factor of discussion, and particularly who’s evidence – is the evidence of public health groups stronger than that of the tobacco industry? Or is it the other way around? How do reviewers differentiate? Is it even possible?
Even though there was emphasis on evidence during the two days, there was time – both in and out of session – to discuss the regulatory side, not just within the UK and Europe, but the global stage also. Coverage included the disparity with the EU with only 15 Member States having an implementation to some degree – either going the extra mile, or taking a minimalist approach.
It wasn’t just vaping that featured in presentations or discussions in the corridors, snus and smokeless tobacco also featured in presentations, in particular the presentation from Professor Karl Lund was both entertaining and illuminating, he demonstrated the existing smoking bans had led to, or at least been attributable for a rise in the use of snus – which has had the overall effect of being positive rather than a negative. Lund referred to this as the “tipping point”, but also suggested that for that to actually happen an unlikely ratio of 20:1 (20 individuals that would never have smoked to start using snus) to offset any health gains.
Spending time with both sides of the debate in the corridors between sessions proved enlightening, the tobacco industry – for all its flaws – does have a valid point. But so too do the public health groups. Only time and transparency from both sides will tell if the evidence can move forward.
A lot of questions were asked at GFN, most were answered but even after two days, I left GFN with still more questions, I look forward to continuing the conversations that were started in Warsaw this year.