Joanna: Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak, and this is GFN News on GFN.TV. In today's program, we'll bring you some reflections on the Global Forum on Nicotine conference and its impact on the world of tobacco harm reduction. The first global farm on nicotine took place in 2014 in Warsaw. Let's start with a quick reminder from ten years ago.
Paddy: I'm Paddy Costall. I'm the conference director for this event. I think it's fantastic that we've managed to get so many people in such a short period of time to this city. We gathered for the first time for this conference. A watershed moment in the whole debate around the science and use of nicotine, I think is particularly appetite to be having it in Central Europe, which is almost on the doorstep of Russia, where Copsex will take place in October this year. It's been extremely pleasing over a short period of time to be able to put together such a comprehensive and interesting program. We've had tremendous cooperation from a large number of organizations and people to make this happen. My one regret, if there is a regret, is that we've not yet engaged with the large international organizations such as WHO, and also with the public health community and policymakers. My hope is that if and when we do this again, which I think we probably will, that the contents of this conference will enable people and encourage people to come along and join the debate rather than sitting on the sidelines and arguing from a distance. Let's have the debates and let's have an honest and open approach, as opposed to the tendency at the moment to conduct it by insults on Twitter. And I think that that's one of the things I want to see an end to. And the other thing I think is most encouraging with this is that we've got 35 vapors from 13 countries, I think it is, and it's been their first opportunity to talk to one another and see exactly what they might have in common. If nothing else, they'll go away from here knowing what they don't agree on. And it would be our aim and our intention to have that number and that proportion of vapors attend the next conference. And I don't know how we'll make that happen, but we'll do it somewhat okay.
Gerry: I'm Gerry Stimson. I'm one of the organizers of the conference, the first ever conference to focus on nicotine and the scientific, the policy, the regulatory, and the consumer issues. It's actually really exciting because we all know that there's a big transformation occurring in the way in which people use nicotine brought to attention over e-cigarettes, but we've known there are other products around. But suddenly we've got the prospect of helping to shift millions of people away from smoking cigarettes to using nicotine in a much safer way. Seen a lot of debate over the last year or so in Europe. There's debate now in the US about regulatory products. There's the discussions that are going on in the World Health Organization coming up this October. So we're really at the cusp, I think, of seeing a big transformation in the way in which we do nicotine and the way in which nicotine is used, and that can only have great benefits for individual health and for public health.
Joanna: Joining us today are Gerry Stimson and Paddy Costall, the founders of the Global Forum on Nicotine. Hello, Gerry. Hello, Paddy. It's good to have you in the program.
Paddy: Thank you, Joanna.
Gerry: Hi, Joanna.
Joanna: We've just looked back at your own comment on the first GFN. What has changed in the interviewing years? Do you still stand by your opinions from ten years ago?
Gerry: Well, it's just amazing to think ten years and it's all gone so quickly. The conference was born on optimism. It was a time when we thought we were on the cusp of a breakthrough, that with safer nicotine products, there were the prospects of that. Millions of premature deaths from smoking could be avoided, and if played right, this could be a huge individual and public health success. I think we still remain optimistic, but the last ten years has seen a lot of ups and downs on the way to tobacco harm reduction and the widespread use of safe and nicotine products.
Paddy: I think I'd agree that there's still some cause for optimism because I think the fact that we're still going and that we're going into next year is an indication of the appetite that there is for both the events and also for the rapidly developing network of tobacco harm reductionists around the world. If I was to look back on the things I said then, which always terrifies me, I think the one thing that I'm proudest of is that we've managed to galvanize the energy and enthusiasm of consumers and we've engaged them, we've provided a platform for them and we provided a venue where people can meet and share experiences. And I think that's really important when you look at, in some places how difficult it is for people to transition to safer products, either by regulation or through cost. I think it's really important that people don't feel as though they're the only ones experiencing this. There's people experiencing it all around the world. I mean, it is not exclusively for once, it's not exclusively an LMIC problem. You only have to look at Australia to see the issues are there for everybody. I think if I was to say what I think is unfortunate is that we still are having difficulty engaging with mainstream public health and to actually have an open and honest debate with tobacco control. We'll continue to open doors. But really they're the ones now that have to step up to the plate and actually do something. That would be my view on what I said last time.
Gerry: Yeah, I totally agree with that. I mean, to push forward on tobacco harm reduction. You've got to get everybody, all the players involved, parliamentarians, consumers, regulators, manufacturers, scientists. And that's really been our mission with the Global Forum on Nicotine. It's an open house. It's actually the only conference in the smoking, tobacco and nicotine space which welcomes everybody. There's no band on who can attend or who can speak. We don't believe in cancel culture or no platform in quite the opposite. The way forward is bringing people together, and we've struggled to do that at the Global Forum because there are some people who don't wish to come. But it remains our vision of how we will take this forward globally. And the Global Forum on Nicotine plays a small part in trying to move along, move along the acceptance of tobacco harm reduction.
Joanna: Fast forward ten years. Have you managed to engage the WHO and other international organization in dialogue about tobacco harm reduction?
Gerry: Well, we haven't managed to engage the WHO. But it's not just us who failed in engaging WHO, because the World Health Organization continues to be closed off to alternative views. It's a great shame, it's a great loss because the International Convention, for example, includes harm reduction, but it's been ignored or neglected, really deliberately ignored by WHO and many of the sort of big institutional players in this field. Change will happen, it’s difficult to know when. I recall going back even more than ten years when HIV was around and when drugs harm reduction first came on the agenda and WHO was staunchly opposed to that. So I don't know how it will happen, but there will continue to be attempts to engage in WHO and eventually WHO has to engage on this naturally. It can't ignore this forever.
Paddy: I think that one of the things that may assist in terms of going forward is if industry actually delivers on its promises to change. I think there's a huge history of mistrust, dishonesty, et cetera, that people point to with the tobacco industry. And this time around, they're saying they want to change. They want to they want to produce safer products, they want to stop people smoking. If that trend and those actions actually continue, I think that will bring pressure to bear from another angle. But the proof in that is that they live up to what they've actually promised to do. I think we maintain an open mind and we talk to people. We talk to everybody and anybody who's willing to listen and who's willing to at least engage in a rational and reasoned debate around the science and the evidence, rather than, unfortunately, continuing the war of words on Twitter. For how much longer that will take, that will go on with Mr. Musk, I do not know. But I think that what we've done is we've provided an alternative narrative, we've provided an alternative way of looking at things, and I hope that people will slowly begin to engage. I think that the hybrid nature of our events these days, where they're available online, leads to more people actually getting the information, because if they're not allowed or unwilling to actually come to the events itself, they can still get the information and they can still make up a judgment on what is being said. And I think that's one of the strengths that we have. I think the other strength is that we're now trying to push the envelope even further and include other languages in the conference and include translation. And I think that's going to reach a wider audience. As with publications that we're involved with, we recognize the importance of language and culture. And I think that's one of the strengths of GFN, that it responds to those things. And after being away for two years, largely as a result of the Pandemic, where we'd virtually been online, apart from one small event that took place in Liverpool, the constituency is growing. And it was very gratifying to see 350 people back in Warsaw in June this year. That's getting back up towards the numbers that we were attracting before the Pandemic. And I hope that that continues and I hope that that growth continues.
Gerry: In a way, GFN is a microcosm of what should be happening globally. It's so exciting and energizing to be at a meeting where you've got consumers talking to parliamentarians, talking to regulators, talking to manufacturers, having conversations which just couldn't take place anywhere else. That is our mission, is bringing people together and exposing people to different ideas and developing the arguments, developing the debate. We did go online, expanded our audience, but the event in Warsaw itself is actually something which I think reenergizes people for the months ahead in between each of the conferences. It's actually just a very exciting and dynamic opportunity to exchange ideas.
Paddy: It's also a lot of fun and people get to see people they don't see the rest of the year. And for all of the concept you can have through social media and through media like Zoom and Skype, etc. So there's no substitute for people being in a room together and getting to know each other. And I think that's one of the strengths that we've built a constituency and we've got the we've got people coming back year after year and I think that's an indicator that this thing is important. And along may have continued.
Gerry: And I think also we remain very optimistic about tobacco harm reduction. What's pushing this forward is consumer interest and good products. Regulators, parliamentarians, legislators might slow this down or might speed this up, but it's not a matter of whether tobacco harm reduction will happen, but it's a matter of when it will happen. And there are some pretty bad in the last ten years, examples of pretty bad policy, bad regulation in the US, in India and Australia. But we've also got some stunning examples of how, in the right circumstances, smokers are rapidly switching to safer alternatives. UK, Norway, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand. All examples of where tobacco harm reduction is pushing forward. So we were optimistic back in 2014, and we remain optimistic today, that tobacco harm reduction will gradually help the majority of the world's smokers to switch away from smoking.
Joanna: What is special or unique about this 10th edition of the conference and what can we expect?
Paddy: I think that is a question you should be asking Jessica, who's the conference director. But as I work closely with her, I'll give a few hints. We will be publishing on the website and through other media the actual program as it develops. But we do want to look at a number of themes. I mean, one of the things that we want to look at is the exclusion of people from other events and the targeting of some people for their involvement in tobacco harm reduction and actually looking at where that's coming from and how we can actually counter that and supporting people who've been going through a very difficult time. We did something on it in the last conference when we looked at the kind of legacy of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and I think we want to take that on to examine it further. We have the likelihood that we're going to have some sessions, actually hold sessions in Spanish with English translation, just for a change and to see how that plays. Because there's a massive issue in South America, in a lot of countries in South America with tobacco harm reduction. There's the kind of ludicrous situation that you've got in Uruguay, which is going full steam ahead to legalize cannabis but is outlawing nicotine. And we want to get into that kind of area and start supporting the advocates who are working on the ground there. So we'll be looking at some Spanish sessions and also translation into Spanish for the vast majority of the other sessions and also looking to expand eastwards into former Soviet republics, Russia itself, and trying to facilitate that, possibly through translation. And the other area that we really would be keen to engage with, and to date we haven't really had a great deal of success is China. And considering China produces the vast majority of the equipment that is used by vapors, particularly, it's a very important area and we need to expand into that. We're going to increase the conference by a day, so it's going to be from Wednesday to the Saturday and that's going to give the opportunity to have a lot of workshops. One of the ones that we're very keen to have, and it looks as though will take place, is one around modeling, which we did once before and was very popular and I think that's going to be a well attended part of the event. We'll have all of the usual features. It's really great pleasure that we've got Roberto Sussman, one of the leading advocates in South America who will deliver the Michael Russell Oration. And I think it's testament to how far consumers have moved and how far advocacy has moved, that he is somebody who is well regarded, even by the opposition. So we're very thrilled to have him come in to do that. I hope the other thing that's going to be special is that we're going to have more, closer to 500 people there rather than 350. And I think we will. At the moment, we're in the process of developing the program and as I say, I don't want to tread on other people's toes, but more information and an encouragement to people to attend will start in January.
Joanna: Okay. And the final question, will you be there at GFN in June 2023?
Paddy: If I'm still drawing breath by then. Yes, I will be there.
Gerry: Absolutely, Joanna. And in 2033, everything permitted. So, yeah, wouldn't miss it at all. It's just a great opportunity to hear the latest science, the latest discussions, and to meet up with all those people who over the last decade have been working globally to push forward on tobacco harm reduction. So, yeah, I wouldn't miss it for the world.
Paddy: It's going to be a celebration as well as an event. It's going to be an opportunity to reflect. We will have some sessions where we will reflect on the last decade and see where things have moved and how they've moved, but it's basically an opportunity to give people a boost and say, you're still here, you're still doing it, it's working and you've got to keep doing it. And I think that's the most important message that we can give to anybody there. So come and join us. Warsaw is lovely. It's flat. You don't have to walk up hills. It's got lots of attractions and I think people who haven't been should come and experience it.
Joanna: Thank you, Gerry. Thank you, Paddy.
Paddy: Thanks, Joanna.
Gerry: Thanks, Joanna.
Joanna: That's all for today. Tune in next time here on Gfn.tv or on our GFN.TV podcast. You can also find transcriptions of each episode on the GFN.TV website. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.