In praise of Dr Marewa Glover
Monday, June 17, 2019 at 14:03
Simon Clark

Postscript to my previous post which included a tweet that described me as a "a smug apologist for deadly cigarettes".

Two people ‘liked’ the tweet and one of them was Martin Dockrell.

Dockrell is the Tobacco Control Programme Lead for Public Health England. He joined PHE in 2016 after seven years working for ASH.

I’m flattered he found a moment to 'like' a tweet calling me ‘smug’. Pot. Kettle. Black.

More revealing perhaps was the fact that an employee of Public Health England endorsed a tweet that accused me (falsely) of being an ‘advocate of deadly cigarettes’.

Advocate of choice and personal responsibility, yes. Advocate of deadly cigarettes (or smoking generally), never.

Instead of wasting any more words on Dockrell, however, I want to praise a public health campaigner I actually respect.

New Zealand's Dr Marewa Glover is a tobacco harm reduction advocate. I admire her because she has qualities that are missing in most tobacco control campaigners - empathy and compassion.

Unlike many of her colleagues - who justify every tobacco control policy on the grounds that it may ‘help’ smokers quit even if it means shaming and marginalising them or forcing them further into poverty - Dr Glover sees the bigger picture.

In 2016, after she spoke out against proposals to extend smoking bans to outdoor areas, I wrote:

I can't remember hearing another health professional talk about smokers in this way, treating them like human beings and expressing concern about "segregation", "shaming", marginalisation and so forth.

See Compassion in public health is rare - ain't that the truth.

She has also questioned tobacco tax increases pointing out that "It’s just punishing, taking more and more in tax from people who smoke when current stop smoking help doesn’t work for them."

Let's be clear, Dr Glover is a smoking cessation campaigner so we will have our differences but unlike most of her peers she seems willing to listen to and respect all positions, including that of people who enjoy smoking and don't want to stop.

It didn't surprise me then that she gave me a name-check at the Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw on Saturday.

Speaking from the floor of a session chaired by the former director of ASH Clive Bates and entitled ‘If it’s time to talk about nicotine, what have we missed?’, she stood up and mentioned my claim that GFN is an ‘echo chamber’ that excludes smokers who don’t want to quit or switch to vaping.

She could have ignored it (like every other delegate and speaker!) but the fact that she raised it highlighted once again how fearless and open-minded she is.

As I say, I’m sure there are things we would disagree on but I like the fact that she is clearly driven not by commercial interests or some puritanical anti-smoking ideology but by a genuine desire to help not punish people if they choose a legal but less orthodox lifestyle.

Earlier this year Dr Glover was one of three finalists nominated for the New Zealander of the Year award and from what I know of her it was well deserved.

Read her profile and she sounds like any other public health campaigner. The reality is rather different and although the jury may be out on her association with the PMI-backed Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, I am keeping my fingers crossed that she will bring some common sense and humanity to the global campaign to ‘eradicate’ smoking.

That means helping those who want to quit but respecting those who choose to smoke even when offered the option of alternative nicotine products.

It also means speaking out, as Dr Glover has done, against measures designed to marginalise and punish smokers.

Unfortunately, in tobacco control circles, she's pretty much on her own in that regard. But credit to her for being a rare voice of reason.

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