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Tobacco harm reduction activist and award-winning African filmmaker discusses unheard narratives around safer nicotine products, smoking cessation, and tobacco control.

Emmanuel Mwape Award Winning Filmmaker, THR Activist
K•A•C Global THR Scholar, Zambia


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Brent Stafford: Hi everybody, I'm Brent Stafford and welcome to another edition of RegWatch on GFN.TV. We're here in Warsaw, Poland at the Global Forum on Nicotine, which is an annual conference dedicated to safer nicotine products and tobacco harm reduction. And it's celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. And we're sitting here with a filmmaker, Emmanuel Mwappe.

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Emmanuel Mwappe: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

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Brent Stafford: It's good to see you. So you produced both a feature film and a short film and a documentary around tobacco harm reduction. Walk us through that.

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Emmanuel Mwappe: So basically I go through in the program called Tobacco Harm Reduction. Of course at the beginning of the program I never actually had the full information of what actually tobacco harm reduction is. not until I got through the program where I was able to meet various people who were able to pass us through the process of, to teach us more about tobacco harm reduction. Then I realized that, of course, we have been practicing harm reduction in many ways. Harm reduction, the use of traffic lights, condoms, and many other things. That's how I got to learn about tobacco harm reduction. Then I was like, I think this is interesting. Coming from a background where my father died because of the use of cigarettes. He was a cigarette smoker. And I thought to say, he struggled as a point to stop smoking. He really struggled to stop smoking. Then after I came through, I saw this program, I thought it is interesting. I think if we had known of maybe a tobacco harm reduction, I think it would have helped in some way. So I think that's how I got motivated to get into the program. then I created a film. Basically, it's a film telling a story about a woman who has created a cooperative center that sells safer nicotine products, but must face other people who are running cigarette business in the community. So basically, in this short film and the feature film, I was trying to tell a story on tobacco harm reduction, but using simpler terms and simpler methods that anyone can understand about tobacco harm reduction. Basically, from the nation where I'm coming from, tobacco harm reduction is something that is new. Of course, now there are many rights to it. Of course, there are barriers to tobacco harm reduction. I think, basically, that's it about the project and tobacco harm reduction in general. I think for Zambia, tobacco harm reduction It's a new subject a few people a few people know about it. And of course, there are some regressions that Of course, we don't have proper regressions in regards to in regards to tobacco in general I think there there's now they're trying to put up an a tobacco at a tobacco enactment bill of some sorts Where are you from Zambia Zambia?

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Brent Stafford: So is the is smoking a real problem there?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: Yes, of course, it is a problem. I think Zambia is one of the biggest producers of tobacco in the world, like farming. Yeah, we do a lot of farming of tobacco.

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Brent Stafford: Yeah. And so, you know, everybody that you know, your friends, the parents, your aunts and uncles, there's a lot of smoking. Usually, yeah, there's a lot of smoking, yeah. So when you said the program, is that the KAC scholarship program you're talking about? Yes, yes. Tell us about that.

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Emmanuel Mwappe: So the KAC Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship is there to help researchers, media personnels, to be trained in the field of tobacco harm reduction, to basically do a project in your own country about tobacco harm reduction. Then after doing that project, it's more of a research and advocacy program. So, for research purposes, you gather information, you bring it together, and for advocacy, you try to spread information on tobacco harm reduction. Basically, that's what the KAC, it's called the Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Program.

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Brent Stafford: How did you find out about it?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: I found out about it through a friend from Malawi who shared information with me to say, oh, I think this might be of interest to you because you usually make films about, because I've created a number of films about mental health and also substance abuse. So yeah, that's how I got to know about tobacco harm reduction.

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Brent Stafford: Part of this then is fiction, and then the other part is non-fiction. Explain that.

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Emmanuel Mwappe: So basically what I've been doing is, so the whole project, it's a fiction, but when I'm doing screenings, I usually try to document the moments if I'm showing people. So that's a separate thing. So basically the project on its own, it's fiction. But I don't, in as much as it is fiction, I'm trying to raise awareness on tobacco harm reduction. So basically, it's fiction, but an educational film.

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Brent Stafford: So you're adding layers on top of layers of the media. Yes, yes. That's excellent. So what's the biggest thing that you think you learned that was a surprise from making this film?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: I think what I've learned through making the film is that a number of people have accepted that it's hard to quit smoking. And hence, some of the people that have seen the film, they have accepted to say, I think tobacco harm reduction is something that we can easily adopt. Because looking at the majority of people that are smokers, most of the people are not willing to quit smoking. Of course, we have a number that are willing to stop smoking. But what happened to my father? Quitting smoking just there and then might be too complicated for others. For others, it might be something that's simple they can easily get over with. But in the process of making the film, I realized, through making the film and also just the mentors, I realized to say that I think tobacco harm reduction is something that we should embrace, that we should critically look into. Of course, with many barriers, like from the country I'm coming from, we have a few people that do research. So I realize to say that there's more, there's need of research mostly in developing countries to do a lot of research in regards to tobacco harm reduction because most of the information that we get is information that has usually been done by people from developed countries. Then we get the information, then we begin to work on that information that we receive. I think there's also a need of us, developing countries, to to look at, to invest more into research, to know about these things, yeah.

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Brent Stafford: Is vaping handled in the film?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: Yeah, of course, they are. So basically, it's not just about vaping. So in this film, I'm looking at different things. I'm looking at nicotine replacement, nicotine replacement therapy, of course, snus, and vaping. So these are some of the things that are in the production. So we have not only just given, we're not just giving the people that are watching the film to say, or vaping, just vaping, or just say snus, or just say nicotine replacement therapy. So actually, we're just trying to give people about maybe four options. One of them is cancelling. Of course, can you manage to quit smoking through cancelling? If somebody is able to do that, then we say, OK, it's fine, because they go at the end of the day to help people quit smoking, to create a smoke-free world. So, yeah, so there are a variety of options for them through watching the film.

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Brent Stafford: Is there controversy over safer nicotine products where you're from?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: Of course, there's a lot of controversy in regards to safer nicotine products. Of course, there are a lot of myths and propaganda in regards to safer nicotine products. What I can say is that I think, yeah, there's a lot of controversy in the sense that, one, people do not know more about safer nicotine products. And the other thing is the channel of information, the information that we receive, that we receive. So I think there's a lot of controversy surrounding safer and equal treatment products. Of course, even just in the reflection of the bill that is being currently being, trying to be enacted, yeah.

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Brent Stafford: Where do you think that controversy, where that misinformation comes from?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: I think the misinformation I think is coming from, what I can say, it's coming from, because us developing countries, we are on the lower end of the food chain. So I would say the controversy is coming from the first end of the food chain, like from developed countries, of course, that's where the more information is coming from. I think People from developing countries usually rely on information that is given to them by authorities, in short. So that's where people usually get more credible information from, rather than from a second-hand third person.

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Brent Stafford: Do you think that the authorities in your country are not giving the best information to its people?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: I don't think most of it relies on authorities. I think it's something that must deal with researchers, of course, like what Arielle mentioned, to say there's need for people to do research. Of course, because most of the research that we receive, whether in HIV fields, in other fields, most of the research, most of it, we usually get it from developed countries. But if we add a lot of people, individuals that invest time into research, to research on various subjects, maybe, for example, the subject that we are talking about, tobacco harm reduction, we would have a lot of people that are getting first-hand information from their own, rather than getting information from a third individual.

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Brent Stafford: Does that work in the same manner when it comes to, say, the media, that the messaging is all coming from the first world media?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: Yes, even in the media. I think the information basically is coming from the developed countries. That's most of the information that we get most clearly when we are dealing with delicate global issues. Most global issues, people usually try to emulate what other countries are doing, what organizations are saying. That's the information that they pick up and put up into practice. I think we have a few. I might not say that we don't have people who are doing virus research. I think we have a few individuals that are doing research in virus-related health issues. And for tobacco harm reduction, I think I managed to meet individuals from my country that are doing research on tobacco harm reduction. It's like everyone is on the same side, some side of the coin, yeah.

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Brent Stafford: Your social network around you, you know, back home, right? People that aren't involved, say, in the documentary and that kind of stuff. How have they reacted to the tobacco harm reduction message?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: Of course, there are positive reactions and negative reactions, in the sense that because most of the people, the majority, they have already received information from trusted bodies. Let me put it in that way. This is what I would call trusted bodies and science bodies. So these trusted bodies have I've collaborated with SANS Body. So they are communicating one information. So in terms of how they have received the information, of course, there's positive feedback. There's both positive and negative feedback because of the myths and propaganda that have been created around safer nicotine products. And of course, there is a number of people that have given positive feedback to say, I think, actually, this is something that we should critically look into. During my research and also interacting with people, one thing that I've come to know is that some of the barriers that are hindering tobacco harm reduction is one, religion, because Zambians are believers, we are religious, and also the other thing that is hindering tobacco harm reduction, its culture. So I think there's need for people to invest more in research in regards to products that would relate well with our culture. For example, I would say maybe snus would relate more to our culture because we have a lot of people that usually use oral tobacco. They're using a lot of tobacco to sniff and other things. So I think there's a lot of, there's need for for research and investment in safer nicotine products that would relate properly with our culture. I think once that, if that need, that bridge is gapped, I think it's something that would be well welcomed and it's something that people might accept because it relates somehow with their culture.

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Brent Stafford: The audience for Saving Chalo and for helping Chalo, is that just regular people or you've been trying to reach government?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: So, for example, it's hard to get maybe government bodies to see these products. But, of course, what I've been trying to do is, when having a screening, is to write to individuals that are working maybe in the healthy industry, to get them to see the fume. Of course, even various media celebrities to just see the fume. and give feedback after the film. So for example, what we do before each screening is that we prepare an entry survey. Maybe I lay a number of questions to say, OK, what do you know about nicotine? I give them A. Others, it's bad. It's addictive. You get that? What do you know about e-cigarettes? Then I give them information. Then what has been happening is that before seeing the film, when I share an entry survey with someone, maybe they would score. maybe 1 out of 10. For example, 1 out of 10. But after the film, we find out to say that we have scored maybe 10 out of 10, 9 out of 9, which actually means that the information is being passed on effectively, and people are kind of accepting, accepting what tobacco harm reduction is. And for them, I think it's something that they have embraced so well that they are ready to accept. Of course, the biggest barrier is the bodies, the bodies that be, the bodies that are surrounding, yeah.

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Brent Stafford: Some topics are easy to make a film on, right? If you're doing cops and robbers and car chases or you're doing something on the drug war or whatever. But THR, isn't it boring?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: No, it's not boring. So the beauty about storytelling is that every one of us, every one of us, every one of us, we love stories. We love to watch. We love to see things. So I think Telling a story about THR, I think it has been easy for me because we went through a process of learning what actually THR is. Then I realized, we have been practicing. We practice THR. And so we practice harm reduction in so many ways. So even just sharing a philosophy of robots with people, just from the philosophy of robots and seat belts with people to say, actually, it's impossible to stop accidents on the road. What if somebody thought of introducing seatbelts to limit the number of accidents on the road? So just that simple philosophy, just adding it to the film, somebody is able to easily understand what THR is. But when I say tobacco harm reduction, when I say tobacco harm reduction, a lot of people at the mention of tobacco harm reduction, they easily accept it. But when you begin to go in depth to tell them what tobacco harm reduction is, that's where now we receive negative and positive feedback. Because some of the people when they say tobacco harm reduction, they usually think it's eradicating the use of tobacco. But I think it's something that we should critically look into, more especially for us developing countries. Of course, what we need is regulations. Like what we have, maybe in our country, we have maybe a number of mushrooming stores selling e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. So these mushrooming small businesses are a problem. They are a problem in the sense that we do not have regulations. If anything bad was to happen, if somebody is using maybe an electronic cigarette, they would come up and say, OK, these things are causing this. Because the problem that we have is regulation. If the authorities that be can look into critical regulations that would help safer nicotine products, I think it's something that can possibly be accepted by the majority. Because if we don't have the regulations, then we're going to have the problem even with raising the message about tobacco harm reduction.

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Brent Stafford: Isn't it a catch-22, though, because the organizations that really push for regulations in LMICs are generally pushing abstinence and bans, right? Is that an issue, do you think?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: Of course it's an issue. I don't think bans would work. I think we have, like from the nation where I'm coming from, it's illegal to smoke marijuana, for example. It's illegal to smoke marijuana. But a number of people still smoke marijuana. So in relation to tobacco harm reduction, if we would, for example, ban tobacco, I don't think it would work. Prohibition wouldn't work. It's high time that there are authorities that reflect on safer nicotine products because they would help people to quit smoking and they would also help lives, like people to use these products for a longer period of time without attracting virus diseases that have been caused by the smoking of tobacco. So, like, we have a lot of diseases that are related to tobacco diseases, mostly from smoking and sniff. Like, they usually do a lot of sniffs from the country they are coming from. But if regulations were there to help these safe and equal products, I think it's something that would help us and help us become a smoke-free nation.

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Brent Stafford: So, you mentioned the authorities that be. One of those authorities is the global authority, the World Health Organization. Now, coming up later this year is what's called COP, COP10. Yeah, the Conference of the Parties. And it doesn't look like it's going to go so well for safer nicotine products, potentially. If you had an opportunity to send a message to the delegates at COP10, what would that message be?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: My question would be, would you accept evil for something that is evil? Maybe that would be the next question for me. And are you able to eradicate this evil completely? If you are unable to eradicate it, then it's high time for you to reflect on getting something that is more safer for people to use than allowing something that is that is not safe for people to consume. I think that would be the best message. I think the best message is for people to critically look at these things and to be more realistic about, to be more realistic with the approach on tobacco. Because, for example, if we say burn tobacco. So, for example, in Zambia we have a lot of people that are farming tobacco. So, one of the things that they can critically look into, not saying, okay, burn tobacco or stop tobacco farming. Of course, it would be hard for people to stop. One of the things that they can critically look into is one of the things that smoke-free world is doing, where they are empowering farmers to shift from use of tobacco. For example, if I'm using 10 hectares of land to plant tobacco, they can slowly slowly start shifting to alternative crops. For example, say, OK, instead of 10 hectares of land for tobacco, can we use 30 percent to plant maize for this year so that slowly we get to a world that will be that will be smoke free.

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Brent Stafford: The Global Forum on Nicotine, this event, what do you think of it? And is it important?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: The Global Forum on Nicotine, it's an important event in the sense that we have people at the event that create these products, that people create these products, and these are people that have been studying the products that they are creating. Of course, What is there, my observation is that the science is already there. I think what's just stopping everything is the regulation. The science is already there. I think even the authorities that be, they need to attend these events. The more they attend, if they begin to attend these events, they'll begin to have a bigger understanding of what what tobacco harm reduction is and they'll begin to understand more on nicotine, for example.

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Brent Stafford: So what's next for you in terms of your next film?

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Emmanuel Mwappe: So what's next for me in terms of the next film? I'll be doing a film where I'm trying to approach lawyers and authorities to learn more about tobacco harm reduction. So that's what I'll be documenting. So I'll be visiting a number of people to see, to access the information. What do they know about tobacco harm reduction? Is it something that they would accept? Is it something that they would reject? Of course, because I'm trying to tell a story. But of course, I'm trying to spread the message on awareness. So I think that's what I'll be working on. and I'm lucky to get into, and I'll be getting into, I'll be studying audio-visual production through KAC.