Another week, another anti-nicotine conference. This time it was Cape Town’s turn to host the World Conference on Tobacco or Health, a three-day extravaganza of propaganda and hate funded by NRT manufacturer Pfizer. This conference has been running since 1967 and, until the mid-1980s, it was reasonably good at sticking to proper science. Then the prohibitionists started to take over, and since then it’s become increasingly hysterical and extreme. Its activities lost touch with the health effects of tobacco long ago, replaced by an obsession with regulating people’s lifestyles. This year’s event showcased that perfectly, plumbing new depths of ideological nutbaggery even by tobacco control standards.
The most newsworthy thing about the event was the very public blackballing of Derek Yach. This came as a surprise to many; after all, Dr Yach isn’t exactly famous as a friend of the tobacco industry. In fact he was one of the key figures behind the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, when he worked for that organisation as its director for non-communicable disease. The FCTC sets up strict rules for how governments and other organisations are allowed to work with the tobacco industry.
However, Yach is also a realist. He knows that hundreds of millions of people actually like tobacco and nicotine, so the chances of them ever going away are roughly zero. The only way smoking is going to disappear is if people are given safer ways of enjoying tobacco and nicotine; that, of course, is what Heat not Burn is all about.
To advance his more realistic agenda, last year Yach agreed to head the new Foundation for a Smoke Free World. The goal of this organisation is to accelerate the process of eliminating smoking globally, so you would expect the people at WCTOH to approve of it. FSFW has already secured close to a billion dollars of funding over the next twelve years, which should make a huge difference to research and education about smoking and safer alternatives.
Unfortunately – from the point of view of the tobacco control industry, anyway – that billion dollars in funding comes from Philip Morris. It’s coming quite openly and without any strings attached, of course; FSFW’s rulebook says quite clearly that the organisation has total control over how funds are spent. PMI can’t tell Yach what to spend the money on or what any research it pays for has to find.
That’s not good enough for the tobacco controllers, of course. Instead of being pleased that so much money is available to reduce smoking, they’re just furious about where it came from – and they seem to be even more furious at Yach for having it when they don’t. Being tobacco controllers they’ve vented their fury in a typically childish way. Last Wednesday, on the first day of the conference, they held a session on FSFW and let rip with every cliché they could think of.
Dick Puddlecote went through the session in some detail on his blog here, here and here, and it’s not impressive; just the usual collection of dishonest rubbish we expect when tobacco controllers are confronted with something they don’t like. Yach is enough of an expert that he could easily have countered all the allegations made against him – if he was there.
He wasn’t there, of course. Even though the conference was held in his native South Africa, Yach didn’t attend. Neither did anyone else from FSFW – because they were declared personae non grata and publicly informed through the conference website that they weren’t welcome and wouldn’t be allowed in.
This is pretty astonishing, to be honest. If Yach’s colleagues weren’t happy with who controlled his funding, they could have discussed it with him at the conference. Instead, they chose to openly turn on one of the most respected people in their profession and ban his entire organisation from a major event. This, as the saying goes, is nothing to do with health. The people who decided to ban Yach are nothing more than quasi-religious zealots, so consumed with hatred of the tobacco industry that they can’t even admit the possibility of it doing anything positive.
Not about health – or truth
The banning of Derek Yach wasn’t the only case of demented spite at WCTOH; several vaping advocates who were there reported being abused by delegates or ejected from sessions. As bad as it was, though, we can write that off as just what you’d expect from the sort of unpleasant people who’re attracted to a career in telling the rest of us how to live. What’s really worrying is the increasingly open hostility to science shown by tobacco controllers.
One of the stars of the conference was Robyn Koval, the CEO of the anti-tobacco group Truth Initiative (which is entirely funded by tobacco industry money). Koval was described as a “visionary” by some WCTOH delegates, but in fact she’s just a marketing executive with no scientific or medical background – and it shows.
Among Koval’s great ideas were to “refuse to legitimise scientific dialogue”, because “any engagement on a scientific level is a win (for FSFW).” There’s no other way to say it: This is appalling. FSFW is pro-harm reduction; most of the science it’s looking at doing is aimed at making safer products available. Why don’t tobacco controllers want to know how safe these new products are?
We know the answer to that one; it’s because every effective harm reduction product on the market is made by what these demented zealots call “the tobacco industry”. They’re still saying that about e-cigs, despite it being obvious for years that most of the market has nothing to do with tobacco companies. Imagine how angry they must be now that HnB is growing in popularity, because those products really are made by the dreaded Big Tobacco.
And so what? Who cares? iQOS has already helped millions of people to quit smoking; Blu, when it becomes widely available, will help millions more. It doesn’t matter that these products are made by companies that also make cigarettes – they still do what they’re supposed to do (and you can find out for yourself by buying an iQOS today).
People who want iQOS banned because it’s made by PMI are saying that they’d rather smokers continue to smoke – and die – than be helped by a tobacco company. This is a fanatical, fundamentalist position. It has strong echoes of the religious concept of original sin, and it’s certainly nothing to do with science.
Science works. It’s the best method we have for examining the world and answering questions about it. There’s already science that shows HnB is much safer than smoking, and more is in the pipeline – some very interesting research on Glo will be released tomorrow. Tobacco controllers hate that, which is why they’re turning their backs on science, expelling heretics like Derek Yach and retreating into the echo chamber of their destructive cult. That’s the sort of people who’re criticising Heat not Burn; my advice is that you treat them the same way you’d treat any other loony cultist.