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Wednesday
Apr122017

The Global Forum on Nicotine – in Warsaw again!

Last year I questioned why the Global Forum on Nicotine, which promotes harm reduction, had introduced a ban on vaping during plenary and parallel sessions.

The self-imposed rule was odd, I thought, because delegates had arrived from all over the world to advocate the use of e-cigarettes and neither the venue - the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw - nor the Polish Government saw fit to restrict their use.

However, as I explained here, the organisers were concerned that:

Some non-vaping delegates last year felt that they were 'trapped' with the vapour, which they found unpleasant and distracting, particularly in the plenary and parallel sessions where there are a lot of people packed into a relatively small space;

The Polish government are pushing for indoor usage restrictions - there may be regulators present and we would like them to leave with a positive view of vaping and vapers, and indeed of the conference;

Since last year the majority of experienced vapers have switched to high powered devices and sub-ohming, which is fine for vape meets but not so good in the conference venue where it tends to create a rather disconcerting fog bank for those who are not used to it.

In my experience people's imaginations are generally worse than reality (the fear of flying being the obvious example) so if you're not a vaper and have never experienced a handful of people vaping in a room you're likely to imagine something far worse than the actualité, especially if your experience of vaping has been limited to seeing images of cloud chasing vapers in magazines and newspapers.

I would suggest therefore that you should let regulators experience people vaping but have a quiet word with vapers about the need to vape (or stealth vape) with discretion and consideration for others during the relevant sessions.

Instead the organisers chose to prohibit all vaping for a substantial part of the conference on the curious grounds that this was the best way to create "a positive view of vaping and vapers".

So how did this policy of appeasement work out? Well, shortly after GFN 2016 the Polish Government banned vaping anywhere smoking is prohibited!

While the anti-smoking law isn't as comprehensive as the UK legislation (clubs, bars, restaurants and other public places are allowed, apparently, to have a separate smoking room as long as it's properly ventilated and closed off from other public areas) the decision to extend it to vaping was nevertheless a substantial blow.

Why then is the Global Forum on Nicotine returning to Warsaw in June?

I don't know about you but if I was organising a conference that advocated the use of e-cigarettes I'd take my money – and that of my delegates – to a country where there are few if any restrictions on vaping in indoor public places.

I'd tell the media why we weren't returning and I'd praise the new host country for its positive and enlightened attitude to e-cigarettes.

What I wouldn't do is return to the same venue as if nothing had happened. Indeed, the GFN website has dropped any mention of a 'vaping policy' nor can I find any reference to the new law or how the organisers will accommodate those who want to vape.

There are tips about currency, electricity, safety and tipping etiquette, but nothing about where delegates can vape.

Compare this to another annual event, the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF), a tobacco industry conference that does its very best to accommodate smoking and vaping.

Despite stringent regulations on smoking worldwide, the organisers have been heroic in their efforts to find smoker-friendly venues, although New York 2017 is going to offer a serious challenge!

Last year for example GTNF took place in Brussels. Belgium has tightened up its public smoking policy in recent years (previously smoking rooms were allowed in restaurants and even offices) but thanks to an exemption in the law (something to do with the fact that GTNF was a private event for which the entire hotel had been booked) the organisers were able to persuade the hotel to provide a designated smoking room on the ground floor off the main reception area.

The room (see below) was well proportioned, ridiculously ornate, with a high ceiling and comfortable armchairs and sofas, and we called it The Liberty Lounge.

On the penultimate evening before the gala dinner Forest hosted a small reception in The Liberty Lounge where guests could eat, drink, talk and smoke. (The absence of almost all the pro-vaping/public health speakers was noted but I'll let that pass.)

What I didn't know until very recently was that hotel staff were given the option to not go into the smoking room, which explains why the food and drink were served outside.

Nevertheless the organisers did everything they could to accommodate those who wanted to smoke – which I don't think is unreasonable at a tobacco industry conference – and I applaud them for that.

In my view the organisers of GFN should be doing the same for those who want to vape and finding a country where delegates can vape without being forced outside ought to be a priority.

Unfortunately (and this observation is not confined to GFN because I've experienced it at other conferences too) consumers are generally bottom of the pecking order. The role of the consumer (even at conferences like GTNF) is to sit, listen and learn from industry and public health 'experts'.

They know what's best for you, after all.

I'm not suggesting there's a long list of vape friendly countries because there isn't, but according to the Nanny State Index, launched last year, the following are among those countries that, as of March 2016, had no (or very few) restrictions on vaping indoors:

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.

When the 2016 Nanny State Index was published Poland would have been on that list too so it will be interesting to see how many countries are still considered vape-friendly when the 2017 Index is published in May.

Meanwhile vapers attending GFN 2017 will just have to grin and bear it. I'm sure the organisers will find some way to accommodate your habit.

Below: The smoking room (aka The Liberty Lounge) at GTNF 2016.

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Reader Comments (7)

It has always seemed to me the most likely explanation for Warsaw is that it creates pretty much maximal decrease in the relative appeal to attend for Americans as compared to Europeans. Someone has to be really committed to the party to travel all that way to be in or anywhere near Warsaw; it is difficult to think of a place in Europe that is accessible but less worth visiting. It is cheap compared to other places in Europe, but for Americans that is not true (perhaps unless they buy a major airline ticket to a hub and then figure out a separate ticket on a discount local carrier) or a drop in the bucket given the general greater expense.

I have proposed this observation (which stands in the context of no other apparent explanation) and no one involved has ever said "no, that is not it" let alone "...the real reason is...."

So my hypothesis still looks good, and this suggests that furthermore the desire to discourage American participation has a sufficiently great magnitude to put up with a vaping ban.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 19:12 | Unregistered CommenterCarl V Phillips

It turns out that "some non-vaping delegates" meant Deborah Arnott. Quelle surprise.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 19:52 | Unregistered CommenterFergus Mason

This is another example of the fruits of appeasement! Overtime you allow tobacco control an inch they will take a mile. Remember this all started with the 'reasonable' request for separate smoking areas. Now they seek prohibition. And yes they seek prohibition of vaping as well as smoking. Tobacco control is a totalitarian regime that denies choice at every opportunity.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 20:57 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

"It turns out that "some non-vaping delegates" meant Deborah Arnott."

Surely not, Fergus.

"Over at Ash – Action On Smoking and Health – Ogden's opposite number is Deborah Arnott.
She was fond of the occasional cigarette until 2003, when she decided to leave a job in TV production and devote her working life to the anti-smoking struggle.
"I smoked Silk Cut," she says, "which probably shows my age."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/feb/03/smokers-ban-backlash

Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 16:06 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

To be fair to Deborah, I seem to remember being told that it was someone else. I don't recall a name but on this occasion I don't think we can point the finger of blame at my old friend!

Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 16:53 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Bowing to tobacco controllers in a conference to promote vaping is outrageous. I hope vapers and vaping advocates realise (the sooner the better) that coddling up to prohibitionists is self-destructive. In fact, the cause for vaping would greatly advance if many vaping participants (say 30 or 50) would openly defy this rule and staged a "let's all vape now" stunt. Sometimes a bit f scandal is better than tons of appeasement.

I spent a long weekend in Warsaw in Nov 2015. Smoking indoors was forbidden in all hotels, bars and restaurants in the central and touristic areas. At that time I had not started vaping. Now when faced with this problem I vape in my hotel room and smoked outdoors, though late Nov is quite cold in Poland.

An interesting anecdote: on arrival to my hotel I requested a smoking room and a snotty hotel clerk slammed me ".. don't you know that Poland is an EU country that follows EU health directives". After I registered I went to the freezing cold for a relaxing cigar after a long trip and a Polish bloke who heard the clerk slamming me joined me for a cigarette and told me "don't worry, you will find lots of places to smoke outside the tourist area, f..ck the EU". In fact, I did find some restaurants that allowed smoking in covered terraces with heaters even in the tourist area. These sections were always packed with people. I don't know to what degree these places were flouting the law or simply finding legal loopholes. Perhaps now all these terraces are smoke-free.

Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 21:00 | Unregistered CommenterRoberto

What I find amazing is that the GFN vaping policy was based on one single complaint of one single person (Dereck Yach) who in 2015 complained to about everyone vapers were vaping on a pro-vaping event. The vast majority has to succumb to the wishes of the one single individual who was not even present the next year.

But indeed not 30-50 vapers but all of them defied the new GFN rule and stealth vaped during the whole event; not as a stunt and no publicity was given to it. Until...

At the 2016 event Debby indeed filed a complain and demanded that the new policy would be enforced with more rigor. To which the organizers replied "now that we have received one single complaint, we have to do something about at it and we need to enforce the ban". Again the rules are dictated by the one individual that fits the hidden agenda, not by the vast and overwhelming majority of the delegates.

On the other hand many vapers complained as well about the imposed vaping restrictions - I even made a harsh reference to it in my speech at the plenary - but the organizers did feel no need whatsoever to do something about those numerous complaints; they decided to loose the video footage instead.

The GFN policy on vaping announced in triumph on the website (in order to set an example for the Polish government to follow) is quit different to what was imposed as real life by the vapers present. And I guess this will be the reality this year as well, now the Polish government has taken over to 'dictate the rules'.

Last year I took the train to Paris, subway, train again and taxi to the airport, a plane to Warsaw (on all of them vaping is prohibited) to arrive at a conference where vaping was restricted. And made my way back home. It didn't stop me from stealth vaping all along the route, and nobody complained, not even the people sitting next to me on the plane.

Maybe this reality should be demonstrated by the GFN to governments: bans that are perceived unfair and over-exaggerated will not be obeyed and can't be enforced.

This would make more sense, instead of hypocritically 'setting exemples' as 'good policy' that vaping bans in public placed should be based on a minute minority view: "if one single person is acting up like a toddler (Yach in 2015, Arnott in 2016) and starts to fake cough, vaping should be banned".

And at the same time giving elaborate scientific speeches the dangers of second hand vaping do not even exist and such coughing is indeed purely psychosomatic.

But I can't help to love the deeper message the PH-experts are giving here about smoking with their vaping policies: exposing ex-smokers (or anyone else for that matter) to second hand smoke poses no danger or problems whatsoever. Otherwise their policies would be totally irresponsible and would equate to premeditated mass murder, as they hysterically like to refer to matter at hand themselves.

Sunday, April 23, 2017 at 11:10 | Unregistered CommenterLuc Van Daele

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