Regular readers will know that some of us went to Warsaw last week, for the Global Forum on Nicotine. Here, Sarah Jakes writes about her impressions from the event.
What can I say about an event of this magnitude in the context of the current fierce debate over safer nicotine products and tobacco harm reduction in general...it's difficult because my head is still reeling with the information I need to process (and possibly a residual amount of rather nice Polish beer).
According to Gerry Stimson and Paddy Costall, partners in Knowledge Action Change (and trustees of NNA) the idea was born in January 2014 and a date in June was chosen with the venue as Warsaw. An impressive line up of worldwide speakers was assembled, and the rest as they say, is history. I'm sure this does not do justice to the huge amount of work and commitment it took to get the event off the ground, but that's a story for Paddy and Gerry to tell.
From the very beginning it was important to Gerry and Paddy that the users of reduced harm products (which in practice was ecig and snus users) should be included. That is still fairly rare in the world of public health although it is changing. What was unique about this event was that consumers were given their own meeting and a lot of assistance in order that they could catch up with what is going on in other countries, identify common goals and ways in which to tackle them, and share experiences in order to assist one another.
On the evening before the conference started the Polish vapers had organised a welcome party in the restaurant beneath the Marriott hotel. This event was a resounding success. It saw vapers from numerous countries meeting one another for the first time, and rubbing shoulders with advocates and scientists whose names we had only previously seen on various scholarly articles. It also seemed to set the tone for the rest of the conference, which was one of inclusion.
A meeting of EVUN members (representatives of the various consumer associations in Europe) was followed by the general consumer meeting. I won't go through all that was said, but contacts were made and ideas were shared, and it is hoped that this will result in better coordinated actions in future. Deborah Arnott (ASH London) was kind enough to join the meeting to speak about the role of the Framework Convention Alliance in the workings of the World Health Organisation, and to advise consumers on how to best influence any decision made at COP6 in October. Deborah's input was very much appreciated.
The rest of the conference was fascinating, and the highlight for me in the sessions was Peter Hajek's 'Michael Russell Oration', again, I won't go into details here but the slides for his presentation are here:
There really was something interesting to take from every speaker I heard. Karl Lund's presentations on snus were particularly interesting to me, because being from the UK I was not even aware of the existence of snus until about a year ago, and there are fascinating regulatory lessons to be learnt. My only problem was the parallel sessions - how exactly are you supposed to chose between Konstantinos Farsalinos, Karl Lund and Lorien Jollye talking about gaps in scientific knowledge, and Clive Bates talking about the regulatory landscape?
Overall there was a feeling that all concerned recognised the enormous importance of getting harm reduction right, even if we didn't agree on all aspects of it, or how we might achieve it. It seemed that people from all sides really were talking to each other and listening, rather than just talking at each other, and in many cases even the word 'sides' suddenly seemed rather inappropriate. We all have an important part to play in this discussion, consumers as much as anyone.
I couldn't end this blog without mentioning the words of Leon Kośmider, winner of the GFN young investigator award. On the plane home he wrote down his thoughts about the conference and these words struck me, I hope he doesn't mind me using them here:
"I am so proud of being a scientist, especially when I have seen, one more time, that what we are doing is so important."
Leon is right. What he and all of the other scientists do is incredibly important, as is the work of the advocates, whether they be consumers or otherwise. We should all feel proud at being a part of it.