Joanna: Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.TV. In today's program Will Godfrey of Filter will discuss questions around the integration of tobacco harm reduction in the wider movement. Hi Will. First of all, why do we even need to be having this conversation? Why isn't THR fully integrated with the rest of the harm reduction?
Will: Well, there are plenty of people working for both THR and harm reduction for other drugs, but there are also divisions. At Filter, We've reported, for example, on syringe programs with antivaping policies. And in terms of organizations and events, there's a persisting sense that the two remain siloed. Among many reasons, is simply a question of turf in that many organizations focus on specific subjects and not others. Harm reductionists, very understandably give emphasis to the criminalization of drug use, which has not traditionally included nicotine, even if recent vape bans are beginning to change that. And although more deaths are linked with smoking than with the use of any other drug, the sheer immediacy of overdose deaths keeps those vital prevention efforts at the front of harm reduction mines. The turf divide has also been exacerbated in recent years by increased Bloomberg funding for harm reduction organizations, which comes with antivaping strings attached. Another factor is certainly the presence of industry in producing and promoting THR products. Of course, the pharma industry makes naloxone, buprenorphine and much more for use in other harm reduction, and that doesn't stop people from supporting it. But as we know, the tobacco industry has a uniquely bad reputation. Neither does the marketled nature of much THR play particularly well with the predominantly leftwing harm reduction movement.
Joanna: Filter recently published an article related to these questions. Can you tell us about that?
Will: Yes. Kevin Garcia conducted interviews with attendees at the 13th National Harm Reduction Conference, which was held in Puerto Rico last month. Significantly, the conference concluded a panel on THR in which Kevin and Filters Helen Redmond, among others, participated. Kevin's conversations showed that harm reductionists are not immune to the misinformation. One person who vapes himself said he didn't know if popcorn lung was a real thing. Another admitted, I think I had succumbed to some of the misinformation about vapes, and I did agree to this idea that this is Big Tobacco's way of getting a new generation hooked. But the harm reductionists were happy to acknowledge what they didn't know about THR science, which is always a good starting point. They acknowledged, too, how smoking hasn't been prioritized by the harm reduction movement, citing reasons like the instinct to focus on shorter term harms and the fact that people who use some banned drugs face even greater stigma than people who smoke. The panel clearly got some people thinking. I have a lot of clients who switch over to vaping instead of smoking cigarettes, said one person who works at a harm reduction program in Michigan. After the talk, it made so much more sense as to why THR is very squarely within the realm of harm reduction, said Dan Coello of Next Distro: an organization that distributes vital supplies like naloxone and syringes. Finally, a number of the harm reductionists expressed real enthusiasm for thinking how to integrate THR into their work. I feel like THR has to be taken more seriously amongst the HR community, said Presto Crespo, who also works for Next. For me, I just totally forgot that nicotine is a drug, and if it's a drug, there are HR tactics that can be used. What we can start doing is just linking up these two kind of separate worlds, said Coello. I think that solid communication needs to be there. We already know and understand how to communicate with people who use drugs, he continued. And communicating with people who use tobacco is something we can very much pivot into. I personally want to learn more and better understand THR. I'm hopeful in the future Next can play a role.
Joanna: Are you optimistic that these two branches of the harm reduction movement can better align?
Will: Ultimately, yes, I am. Through my work, I've encountered growing numbers of people in the wider harm reduction movement beginning to express more interest in THR. The barriers like the Bloomberg funding are real, but harm reductionists are people who believe in evidence and compassion for people experiencing drugrelated harms of any kind is not a finite resource. Harm reductionists are determined to save lives, of course, they also fight for social justice and when THR benefits, disproportionately marginalized populations who smoke, high rates of smoking among people who use banned drugs being one example, then that's a clear area of compatibility. THR people could sometimes deploy better messaging to reach other harm reductionists, I feel. But uniting the harm reduction movements has to be a winning cause.
Joanna: Thank you Will. That's all for today. Tune in next time here on GFN.TV or on our new podcast. You can also find transcriptions of each episode on the GFN.TV website. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.