Conference on Tobacco (or Health) Doesn’t Embrace Harm Reduction

It is that time of year where all roads lead to a large, taxpayer-funded shindig of tobacco control troughers, hangers-on, activists and prodnoses. This time, the World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) heads to Cape Town to discuss the latest “science”, policies, ideas and general authoritarian principles associated with tobacco control.

Interestingly, the UK felt it necessary to send 35 delegates to the conference, all funded by the taxpayer (natch) to the tune of £250,000. Naturally, the usual suspects are there to talk about the various policies that are considered to be “successful” in driving down the smoking rate.

A quick check of the interactive planner for sessions, presentations and abstracts that mention “harm reduction” is rather telling. One session (Emerging Issues of Tobacco Harm Reduction: A Global Comparative Perspective) which is mostly about the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.

Philip Morris´ billion dollar Foundation for a Smoke-Free World establishes the tobacco industry as simultaneously combating smoking, and replaces quitting and policy regulations with product substitution and voluntary initiatives. While some countries do not recommend promotion of less harmful tobacco products, others have endorsed novel products like electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation. Policy positions are evolving rapidly, as the industry promotes and lobbies for endorsing e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco products, and novel nicotine delivery devices. This panel will discuss tobacco harm reduction policies and industry influence across different countries, and the potential impact of new products and industry on tobacco control.

Amusingly, as my Google Alert informed me this morning, Derek Yach and any associate of the Foundation are actually banned from attending the conference. Having a dedicated session (only an hour long mind) on THR without including the widely recognised leader of harm-reduction policies, not to mention the chief architect of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control seems a tad short-sighted.

Aside from the dedicated session on harm reduction, there’s a total of five presentations that specifically mention harm reduction in the title, no doubt others will touch on the subject, and given the environment, they’ll be along the lines of “how do we stop the industry promoting harm reduction”. After all, exclusion on Derek Yach and any associate of the FSFW makes it abundantly clear that the conference isn’t really about health.

The science program should also be rather interesting given this news piece:

  • Electronic cigarette use and conventional cigarette smoking initiation among youth in the United States (authored by researchers at the CDC)
  • The impact of a tobacco point-of-sale display ban on youth in the United Kingdom: findings from a repeat cross-sectional survey pre-, mid- and post-implementation. (University of Stirling, UK. Presented by Allison Ford)
  • Use of flavoured cigarettes in the first few puffs: a step toward smoking initiation and nicotine addiction? Data from a national survey among Brazilian adolescents. (Valeska C. Figueiredo)
  • Economics of tobacco control in Nigeria: modelling the fiscal and health effects of a tobacco excise tax change (Chukwuka Onyekwena)

Given the history of tobacco control “science” the comment from Professor Harry Lando is rather laughable:

The high quality of the science being presented in Cape Town comes at a pivotal moment in tobacco control

Yes, it is such high quality that even I, a mere IT geek, can disassemble most of it. What is telling is the follow-up comment:

On the one hand we will see research being presented confirming the astounding public health progress made to eliminate smoking over the past decade but challengingly, we will also see research on trends that are currently shaping the future battle lines of tobacco control on a global scale.

Y’see, these tax spongers aren’t going to be happy even if they do “eliminate smoking”, they’re already looking at the other products.

Just confirming that it’s never been about health, it’s always been about control.