27 June 2019
By Dr. Jana Olson
We need to reach out
Saturday was a shorter day, and the last day of the conference, but that didn’t mean it was light on content. The morning started with the policy plenary, focused on reaching vulnerable and hard to reach populations. People who are homeless, have mental illness, have a history of substance abuse, and indigenous populations all were given a voice in this session. Dr. Sharon Cox, the first presenter and Trial Manager at London South Bank University, could have been speaking for all underserved populations represented in this session when she said that “This group isn’t hard to reach. We’re just not reaching out.”
After the coffee break, Dr. Riccardo Polosa of the University of Catania in Italy described the lack of scientific rigor that seems to be an issue in tobacco harm reduction research, which allows a large amount of flawed methodology and conclusions that are biased against potentially reduced risk products. Further presentations covered the history of smokeless tobacco in the U.S., nicotine use in pregnancy, and environmental emissions of smoke-free products.
Speakers at the debate "If it's time to talk about nicotine - what have we missed? from left to right: Clive Bates, Director of Counterfactual; Fiona Patten, Member in the Victorian Parliament's Legislative Council; Dr. Saul Shiffman, University of Pittsburg; Cecilia Kindstrand-Isaksson, Director of Public Affairs for Swedish Match; and Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association.
…Otherwise we are an echo chamber
Finally, the last two sessions of the day were open to both the speakers and the audience to address any issues that might have been missed. One of my favorite exchanges was when one speaker stood up and spoke on behalf of many of the tobacco control activists, explaining their point of view on the discussion in progress. The first response to this point was by Dr. Roberto Sussman, University of Mexico, who said it was great that Neal brought this up, because “otherwise we are an echo chamber.”
This is my biggest take-away from this session as well as the conference overall. I felt warmly welcomed in large part because the other people at this conference had a lot of the same views as myself on tobacco harm reduction. While that made me feel comfortable and safe, I didn’t hear many statements that were in conflict with my own opinions. It means most people in attendance wouldn’t have learned something particularly new or surprising about tobacco harm reduction.
One great strength of this conference is that many of the sessions are available via YouTube, so that those who couldn’t attend can still watch and learn something. This means that the discussions still have a chance to spark excellent conversations and potentially convince others that the approach of tobacco harm reduction is better than the stark choice of quit or die.
There was a torrent of information on nicotine and smoke-free products, on regulations around the world, and so many other topics that I couldn’t cover everything in these notes. I’ve highlighted a few particularly interesting presentations and given a nod at a few others, but I’ve missed a lot of good information in these summaries. You can find even more information by viewing the recordings of the sessions themselves.