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« My Twitter joust with Juul's Peter Beckett | Main | Ban vaping in public places? Dame Sally needs a wake-up call »

GFN - just another echo chamber?

The Global Forum on Nicotine is meeting in Warsaw as I write.

Everyone can come and no-one is prohibited from speaking, say the organisers.

That may be true but attending a conference as a delegate does not give you the same platform as a panellist or speaker.

If you’re lucky you may catch the moderator’s eye and be invited to ask a question towards the end of a session, if it hasn’t over-run.

Or you may be allowed to make a very short point before your fellow delegates rush for the exit and a well-deserved ‘comfort break’.

What is beyond argument is that being in the audience is not the same as being a panellist or speaker.

Anyway, in response to the ‘no-one is prohibited from speaking’ message, I tweeted:

This led to several tweets in response including one from someone who helpfully highlighted a blog post I’d written in June 2017.

It was inspired by an email I’d received from one of the organisers of GFN who took me to task for writing and tweeting a “lot of inaccurate stuff” about the conference.

He then invited me to attend GFN but as a delegate not as a speaker.

I replied in what I thought was a friendly and constructive manner. I made several suggestions and even proposed we meet for coffee and a chat.

That was two years ago. I am still waiting for a reply.

Meanwhile, despite insisting that ‘We are the only event that brings together a wide range of stakeholders who otherwise might never meet each other’, the Global Forum on Nicotine continues to ignore a rather important stakeholder - the millions of consumers who enjoy smoking and don’t want to switch to vaping.

You might have thought the views of this substantial group would be of some interest and relevance to advocates of tobacco harm reduction but apparently not.

Before I’m dismissed as a Luddite and horribly unfair to GFN, read my 2017 post in full. I’m actually quite respectful and describe the conference as a ‘huge success’ - see GFN: I would if I could but I can’t.

Anyway, while vaping advocates have been chewing the fat in the heat of Warsaw I’ve been doing my bit by appearing on BBC radio ridiculing a call by England’s Chief Medical Officer to restrict the use of e-cigarettes to vapers’ homes and gardens.

You can add it to the many other interviews I've done defending or supporting vaping on the BBC both at home and abroad.

Thanks to David Newell (a vaper) for posting it on YouTube.

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Reader Comments (6)

Just another anti smoker conference that takes itself too seriously while ignoring the people they should be talking to. However, they cannot promise to eradicate tobacco if they allow someone in support of free choice have a say.

It is very good of you to speak up for vaping when not one vaping advocate would speak up for the choice to smoke. There would be no conversion and no money for the Vaping industry if they did support the choice to smoke.

They are the same bunch of untrustworthy hypocrites as the creeps in the anti smoker industry that they are so desperate to get into bed with. We all know where that relationship is heading 😂😂😂😂😂

Saturday, June 15, 2019 at 12:00 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Good points, which underplay your thesis a bit. I too went through something similar to what you describe as your personal experience -- lack of interest in certain kinds of diversity, and lack of honesty in enforcing that.

The name, of course, is Orwellian. As you say, it is a conference on vaping advocacy, not on nicotine. It is also basically European, not global (especially if you count white Commonwealth countries as European, as one probably should); they tout the heck out of the ~1 featured speaker they have each year from Africa or Asia. The location was pretty clearly chosen to discourage Americans from attending.

The lack of viewpoint diversity is not just excluding advocates for smokers and for other products, though that is a huge part of it. There is also a subtle narrowness of the range of opinion of vaping advocates. It is not complete, but there seems to be a skew toward command-and-control approaches rather than support for harm reduction (it is a European conference after all :-). This is a lot of what makes it anti-smoker, of course.

Most notably, there seems to be little interest in expertise. They seem to have a handful of "my lived experience" talks every year, which are great. But they are striking because they are the rare cases of finding someone with paramount expertise (possibly about a fairly narrow aspect). They have people presenting their papers too, of course (which I guess is ok). But most every time I see one of their general talks touted, "Person X talking about Y", I find myself thinking "really! they could not get any one of the top 50 experts to talk about Y?" I am reminded of American television where you get something like "coming up, we will talk about today's events in the Gulf of Oman with with acclaimed film director X, because he happens to be the guest we have today."

It also seems (though I will flag this as speculative, something that is not entirely clear to someone who is not there, but has just watched the dispatches over the years) that there is a -- again, European-style -- bias toward incrementalism in terms of departures from authority. That again is part of what makes it anti-smoker: the status quo on the ground is extremely anti-smoker, so even an incremental change in the right direction is still an anti-smoker position. A serious global forum on vaping advocacy would be talking about organizing civil disobedience actions in certain countries (like mine); maybe they are and it just does not make the dispatches, but I am guessing not. The organization efforts that the GFN types back (and, indeed, that they created from whole cloth -- these were not spontaneous creations), are genteel "write letters and lobby Brussels" type operations. Fine for Europe, but not what is needed in the US.

Saturday, June 15, 2019 at 13:05 | Unregistered CommenterCarl V Phillips

Dear Simon, greetings from Warsaw. I am sorry! And I acknowledge that I am just as prone to Dunning-Kruger and general "I'm an a-hole bias", as the next guy. What I meant with my tweet was, to stick it to the Swedish authorities, for allowing 350 million people to continue using unnecessarily dangerous ST products. Seems I poked the wrong bear here, hear here

Saturday, June 15, 2019 at 13:45 | Unregistered CommenterAtakan Befrits


It brings a whole new meaning to "Think global, act local".

Some of the poor dears may well think they're a global phenomenon - a rich tapestry of the world's diverse views on nicotine. I have to suggest that their thinking is just a little parochial, even bordering on the incestuous.

Saturday, June 15, 2019 at 15:47 | Unregistered CommenterManx Gent

Hi Atakan, I wasn’t having a go at you. I assumed you were quoting from the Welcome Speech. My beef is with the organisers not you!

Saturday, June 15, 2019 at 15:57 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

"No one is prohibited to speak" really? Three years back I managed to get on stage as a speaker in the closing session. I did warn the organisers my topic would be controvertial : "do vapers throw smokers under the bus?". Not surprising the video footage got lost during processing. My closing remark was "a global conference on nicotine without the mayor stakeholder present (the smoker) is a bit of joke, isn't it?"

I somewhat retired after that as a vaping activist (I do not like to be called advocate). But now three years later I got banned from the GFN twitter account. Last time I did send them a tweet was more then two years ago. But I recently got a little active with the #VapingIsNOTtobacco EU citizens initiative to get vaping out the TPD (and as such out of the influence of the the WHO-FCTC).

"No one is prohibited to speak" or just another pro-FCTC anti-smoking echo chamber indeed.

Sunday, June 16, 2019 at 19:53 | Unregistered CommenterLVD

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