The Global Forum on Nicotine – in Warsaw again!
Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 18:56
Simon Clark

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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