Ever wondered how to get a standing ovation at a tobacco industry convention? Then read on …
Readers may recall that I was invited last year to speak at the Global Tobacco Networking Forum in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. (See Greetings from The Greenbrier.)
A report on the conference has now been published in the January issue of Tobacco Reporter. You can read it here.
GTNF brings together a wide range of people from inside and outside the tobacco industry. In recent years it has been attended by an increasing number of e-cigarette advocates including Carl Phillips, scientific director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) and Clive Bates, former director of ASH, now an associate of the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA).
Previous forums have taken place in Rio, Bangalore, Antwerp and Cape Town. Because it was closer to home, perhaps, the Greenbriers event attracted the CEOs of two prominent American tobacco companies, Susan Cameron of Reynolds American, and Murray Kessler of Lorillard.
Some vapers should look away now because in her speech Cameron called for the strict regulation of open-system vapour products. In her view, they present a "unique risk" because they are "open to tampering".
It's comments like these that have upset a lot of vapers. Personally I'm against strict regulation but credit to her for going public with her position in such a no-nonsense fashion and not hiding behind Chatham House rules.
Murray Kessler said the tobacco industry was committed to harm reduction but said the strategy must include risk modification as well as abstinence. "We need an alternative to the quit or die message." Agreed.
The biggest coup was to get Mitch Zeller, director of the US Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). Reduce harm products presented the CTP with a challenge, he said. They may be less of a risk to the user but their availability might prevent consumers from choosing the healthiest option, complete cessation.
And that, in a nutshell, is what we're up against. Even the more liberal and open-minded public health officials view complete cessation as the long-term goal. Zeller didn't say it but "No safe level of nicotine" is sure to be the mantra for many years to come. Good news for the likes of ASH but bad news for the rest of us (including the taxpayer).
One of the most passionate presentations came from John Cameron, brother of Hollywood director James Cameron. "If I could I'd smoke in my sleep," he declared before announcing tobacco's imminent demise. "It's over," he said.
A vibrant hi-tech business will take its place. "All major brand owners – Harley Davison, Starbucks – will have their own line of e-cigarettes … In the future, when you see an e-cigarette, you will think health, not harm."
In comparison I must have come across as a complete Luddite. The short summary of my presentation reads:
Forest’s Simon Clark … argued that, throughout the debate, one group had been consistently underrepresented — consumers. Established to defend the interest of both smokers and tolerant nonsmokers, Forest celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2014. Clark took the opportunity to look back on some of the organization’s initiatives, and to contemplate the future in a rapidly changing business environment.
Throughout the years, Forest campaigns have had varying levels of success, according to Clark. The organization’s Save our pubs campaign could not prevent a comprehensive public smoking ban in the UK. Its Hands off our packs initiative, against the implementation of plain packaging, has been more successful. Three years after the start of the discussion, the UK government has yet to decide on the issue [Damn, spoke too soon!]. The difference, according to Clark, is funding. Whereas the Save Our Pubs initiative was carried out on a shoestring budget, the Hands Off Our Packs campaigners had more money to work with.
Clark promised Forest would continue stressing consumer choice and attacking excessive regulation in its defense of smokers. But he cautioned that, in their enthusiasm about e-cigarettes, tobacco executives should not forget their traditional customer, the smoker, who still accounts for the vast majority of the business.
Even Cameron, however, would have struggled to compete with Kgosi Letlape, president of the Africa Medical Association:
As the president of the Africa Medical Association, Letlape’s decision to attend a tobacco forum elicited strong criticism from fellow health advocates.
As a pragmatist, however, he believes the goal of public health is better served by engagement than confrontation. Cigarettes, says Letlape, are not about to go away because of various forms of addiction—smokers’ addiction to nicotine, companies’ addiction to profits and government addiction to tobacco tax revenues.
In order to be successful, new products would need to satisfy all these addictions, according to Letlape. “We need to find a way to live with addiction, as opposed to dying from it,” he said.
Letlape sees a role for all stakeholders, including health activists, regulators and industry. “You don’t have to love or even trust each other,” he said. “Just respect each other and be civil.”
Now that's how you get a standing ovation at a tobacco industry convention.
To read the full report on GTNF2014 click here and turn to page 20.