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The fifth Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) has just taken place in Warsaw, Poland, and again the NNA featured prominently, as we highlighted in our May newsletter.

The plenary address given by NNA's Sarah Jakes, has already been published here and there will be further articles soon expanding on our contributions to the event.

Aside from this, there were many other positive reflections to take from the conference but also – as is always the case with this subject matter – other issues which need to be addressed. 

This year’s event saw over 500 delegates attend, a new record, and this despite the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention’s Conference taking place at the same time in Madrid, resulting in the absence of many in public health who had attended in previous years. This is not to say that public health was not represented, they were, but they were presented with a conference which was one of the most optimistic yet and would have left with a healthy view of tobacco harm reduction.

Global participation appeared to be noticeably expanded this year which bodes well for the future. Contributions from - and presence of - public health experts, scientists, industry and consumers were evident from a wider range of territories and continents than before. The posters on display were the most extensive yet, taking up two long walls and then some.

Tobacco harm reduction, it seems, is becoming a hot global topic. 

In the centre of it is the UK, which was widely praised by those in attendance for the enlightened attitude it affords vaping, in particular. Many attendees spoke of how the success on these shores had inspired others to pursue the same policies in their own jurisdictions. We at the NNA are proud to have been involved in advising our government and NGOs on harm reduction since 2014 and we are thrilled to see that our optimism is beginning to be shared by others throughout the world.

We understand that presentations are already available at the GFN website here and that video of the sessions will be uploaded shortly. We would have no hesitation in recommending you take time to view some of them if you were unable to attend yourself, they are sure to be a hearty resource. 

In particular, we welcomed David Sweanor of Canada calling for more data on the seismic successes enjoyed by countries such as Iceland, Japan, France, Norway, South Korea and the UK so that the size and potential of disruption can be better understood. It was also good to hear more about the panoply of products available; which populations might benefit from them; and how there could be a better understanding of the industry, consumers and their interaction with public health goals.

It was also good to hear Martin Jarvis talk of the vital importance of harm reduction as identified by Michael Russell 40 years ago, and how Russell’s legacy should be celebrated as a breakthrough in understanding of the role of safer nicotine. Rather than condemnation of safer alternatives and personal attacks on those like the NNA who promote them, a better public health approach for all would be dialogue and an adherence to evidence.

The polar opposite approaches to the subject were no more acutely illustrated than by Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, who had hot-footed from the Madrid event to report to GFN what he had heard in Spain from tobacco control. He spoke of how they view reduced risk as a danger and a threat, with delegates there making apocalyptic predictions which conflict wildly from reality. He suggested that delegates should not be in Warsaw, but instead in Madrid trying to rectify misperceptions.

The NNA and other advocates would like nothing more, but often when we try the doors shut, and ranks are closed. It should not be for consumers to beg for an audience with ivory tower public health, it should be up to public health to engage with consumers since we are the people who will thrive or suffer under their edicts. 

We would suggest, instead, that next year those in tobacco control who were in Madrid bite the bullet, swallow their pride and prejudice, and come to Warsaw to see the enthusiasm and drive behind the tobacco harm reduction movement. Reducing harm from tobacco requires compromise and co-operation from all sides, not trenchant obstinance and blind adherence to coercive policies which have only offered chequered success.

The NNA will be present and correct at the next GFN and we can only hope that more from public health around the world will join us for meaningful discussion, rather than the unhelpful dismissal of consumers as a voice which has sadly plagued the debate amongst some.

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