In the first of a new series of interviews, we have been very fortunate to chat with Professor Gerry Stimson, a public health sociologist, with over 40 years’ experience of public health research and advocacy in the field of psychoactive substance use. With over 220 scientific publications and several books to his name, he is a keen advocate of electronic cigarettes and continues to campaigned tirelessly for them.
We asked him about the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) that he is instrumental in organizing, and is going to be held in Warsaw this summer. : http://gfn.net.co
Katie: What made you want to organise the GNF?
Gerry: It comes on the back of the campaigning over the last 18 months concerning the Tobacco Products Directive. It also comes ahead of decisions that are going to be made by the FDA in the USA regarding e-cigarettes, and discussions initiated by World Health Organisation for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control meeting in October – about whether e-cigarettes should be brought into the FCTC. It is a good point in time to have a meeting on nicotine issues. The second reason is that most of the national and international discussions have been around tobacco, tobacco control and anti-smoking. The GFN is an opportunity to highlight that the issues are really about nicotine, about its science and regulatory issues, about who’s using it, and policy issues. That’s why we’ve chosen to call it a forum on Nicotine rather than a meeting on tobacco or tobacco control. We can talk about the uses of nicotine and the way in which this drug may become an acceptable consumer product.
Katie: So it is completely reframing the discourse, as it has been quite combatative hasn’t it? Tobacco against the rest of us, or e cigs against the policy makers but actually, hang on, the core component is nicotine, so lets look at it – on its own, away from tobacco?
Gerry: That’s right. There are conferences on smoking and smoking cessation, but new nicotine products only get a small look in there – and it’s time to look at nicotine itself. The conference is a truly multi-stakeholder event. Many tobacco control meetings have been fairly narrow: they have involved academics, regulators, smoking cessation experts and public health people. But what I and my colleague Paddy Costall like to do is to run events where you involve as many different people as possible – that includes the academics and the public health types, also consumers, advocates, parliamentarians and companies. They are all involved in this. A meeting that excludes all or any of those groups is rather negative.
Katie: You have quite a broad spectrum of academics attending, but also some of the trade associations; you’ve vendors and an MEP – Rebecca Taylor! But won’t she be stepping down by then?
Gerry: Her last two days as an MEP! That’s the problem with asking MEPs, they all finish in June, and she is not standing again. We have some key scientists and policy people – you know lots of them; and nearly all of the sessions will include consumers on the panels.
Katie: And will these be consumers from across Europe? They won’t all be UK consumers?
Gerry: Mainly Europe, due to the logistics. We truly intend that every panel will include a vaper or snus user. The European Vapers United Network will have a satellite meeting and this will be the first ever face-to-face meeting of European vapers. We hope that EVUN will have an opportunity to get vapers from at least 10 countries. It’s time to create organisations and associations that have formal recognition. Strategically this is important, because energies can be focussed, and also because organisations and associations have the legitimacy for example to write to ministers of health, or the WHO. Most vapers who are advocates don’t come from NGO and community organising backgrounds and have been on a steep learning curve this last twelve months.
Katie: It is such a completely different world – as we have found out.
Gerry: It was a simple message last year – save e cigs, but now it has to be a little subtler and less confrontational with MPs, MEPs and government officials. And it also gets more complicated – vapers need to engage with national governments regarding regulation, and they need to find ways to engage with WHO.
Katie: As the EU top brass have decided not to engage with you in the conference, how are you hoping to get the information that will come out of this out to a wider audience, out to the people that really need to hear it -to the policy makers, to the people who don’t want to hear about it, and think that to all intense and purposes the TPD is done and dusted? It seems you have an incredible amount of knowledgeable people, so how do you intend to get this out to a wider audience?
Gerry: That’s always a problem. We hope to get politicians to the event, but that is always going to be a bit of a struggle. We have some interest from Polish politicians. There will be a lot of media activity. The media message will be pitched around two things. One will be standards, as this is a key issue this year. We will have satellite discussions on e-cigarette standards: we want to discuss standards before governments and European Commission get too far down that road. Secondly the message needs to be around COP6 – that’s the Framework Convention on Tobacco meeting in Moscow in October. It’s the Conference of Parties – all the governments that are a part of the FCTC. The meeting is driven by WHO, and it looks like WHO want e-cigarettes categorized as tobacco products: then they’d be subject to all the restrictions that tobacco products come under. One of the messages to come out of the global forum is that the WHO has got it wrong on e cigarettes. There are two messages to get across to WHO. First, don´t class e cigarettes as tobacco products, nothing is gained by doing that and it will inhibit uptake of the product. Second, WHO has to review its current anti tobacco strategy – there is a golden opportunity to make huge public health advances if international organisations and political leaders can grasp the significance and importance of new nicotine products. WHO is very concerned about non-communicable diseases including smoking-related disease. We have to convince them of the key contribution that e cigarettes (and snus) can make in reducing the burden from smoking related disease.
Katie: The WHO is incredibly influential, isn’t it?
Gerry: They are, especially with poorer countries. If you are a poor country and you need a tobacco strategy or policy, and you don’t have the resources yourself, there is an ‘off the shelf ’ one from WHO.
Katie: Thank you Gerry, are there any last points you would like to make?
Gerry: There will be sessions in Polish and there are reduced rates for consumers, so if you really want to attend – get in touch! You can email with Gerry -firstname.lastname@example.org