The future for nicotine: experts convene to discuss role of safer alternatives in fight against smoking-related death and disease
- 8th annual Global Forum on Nicotine (#GFN21) taking place in Liverpool, UK and online on 17 – 18 June
- Event provides platform for rational and inclusive debate about nicotine
International public health specialists, scientists, medical practitioners, tobacco control experts, industry and investment analysts and consumers are convening for the Global Forum on Nicotine 2021 (#GFN21) on Thursday 17 and Friday 18 June in Liverpool, UK and streaming free online, to highlight the vital role of safer nicotine products in the fight to reduce global smoking-related death and disease.
Since the start of the pandemic, the world has lost an estimated 3.75 million people to COVID-19; a devastating figure that remains under half the annual death toll from smoking. Every day, 1.1 billion smokers still light up around the world, a figure that has stalled for over 20 years despite decades of tobacco control efforts. Eighty per cent of the world’s smokers live in low and middle income countries (LMIC), least able to cope with the disease burden of smoking, and in higher income countries, smoking is a major cause of health inequalities.
People smoke to obtain nicotine, a comparatively low risk substance, but are harmed by thousands of toxins released when tobacco burns. Experts at the Global Forum on Nicotine will discuss an approach called tobacco harm reduction; people who cannot quit nicotine are encouraged to switch from dangerous combustible or oral products to safer nicotine products including vapes (ecigarettes), pasteurised snus, non-tobacco nicotine pouches and heated tobacco products. Compared to continued smoking, all are significantly less harmful to health.
Despite an estimated 98 million adult smokers having already switched to safer nicotine products worldwide, public health and tobacco control remains deeply divided on the role of tobacco harm reduction. The Global Forum on Nicotine gives consumers a voice, with many participating as speakers and delegates. It also offers a platform for debate and information-sharing – while remaining focused on the ultimate goal: accelerating the end of smoking-related death and disease.
Speaking ahead of the conference, GFN director Professor Gerry Stimson, emeritus professor at Imperial College London, said, “Up to 98 million consumers worldwide have already made the switch to safer nicotine products. In England, health authorities support vaping to quit smoking and vapes are now the most popular quit aid. Tobacco-related mortality in Sweden, where snus has almost replaced smoking, is the lowest in Europe. And in Japan, cigarette sales have dropped by a third since heated tobacco products came to market. Manufacturers must now ensure safer alternatives are affordable to people in LMIC, not just consumers in high income nations.
Professor Stimson continued, “Worryingly, international tobacco control leaders are doggedly pursuing an irresponsible prohibitionist approach to tobacco and nicotine, while the WHO actively perpetuates misinformation on new nicotine products. Public health will not be served nor lives saved by a war on nicotine, as doomed to failure as the war on drugs. The WHO must refocus its efforts on supporting 1.1 billion adult smokers to quit by all available means.”
Paddy Costall of KAC Communications, conference organiser added: “At GFN, we offer an inclusive platform to discuss all aspects of nicotine use and we believe it’s important that no one is excluded from the debate. It’s a fallacy that tobacco control and harm reduction are irreconcilable as many believe – they are complementary. With one billion smoking related deaths predicted by the end of this century, it’s time ideology makes way for pragmatism in order to save lives.”
Three keynotes will be delivered to honor the memory of Professor Michael Russell, psychiatrist, research scientist and pioneer in the study of tobacco dependence and the development of treatments to help smokers quit. Russell’s observation in the British Medical Journal in 1976 that “people smoke for nicotine, but they die from the tar” remains highly influential within the field.
GFN is self-funding and does not receive any sponsorship from manufacturers, distributors or retailers of nicotine products, including pharmaceutical, electronic cigarette and tobacco companies. However, the conference operates an open door policy. Consumers, policymakers, academics, scientists and public health experts participate alongside representatives from manufacturers and distributors of safer nicotine products. The event organisers believe that dialogue and strategic engagement of all stakeholders involved in tobacco and nicotine use, control and production is the only way to effect true, sustainable change – both to industry practices and the public health outcomes related to smoking.