Between 2001 and 2003, US lawyer Greg Jacob was a member of the US delegation charged with negotiating the terms of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). I know I do have readers outside of the tobacco harm reduction community, so a bit of back story.
The WHO decided in the mid-1990s that the public health community’s long-standing fight against the iniquities of global Big Tobacco needed a legislative response that was equally global. After many years of tortuous negotiations, the FCTC came into force in 2005 and was a singular event in UN history; the world’s first global public health treaty, signed by 168 countries in the first year and now ratified or acceded to by 181 countries known in the Convention as Parties. These Parties have a legal obligation to implement the provisions of the FCTC and to participate in a biennial Conference of the Parties (COP). COP 8 is due to be held in Geneva next month.
What? Patience dear reader and bear with me.
This week the MPs on the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology released their favourable report on e-cigarettes. UK Channel 4 News brought together Deborah Arnott, Director of Action on Smoking and Health and Professor Martin McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
JUUL e-cigarettes have taken the American e-cigarette market by storm, capturing over 70% of the US market in extremely short time. Because of the huge publicity generated and much media hand-wringing in editorials, features and op-eds (often quoting diehard anti-tobacco harm reduction activists about the alleged risk to young people), this has no doubt fuelled interest in these devices by the same cohort. Much the same happened in the UK regarding LSD in the 1960s and glue sniffing in the USA during the 1970s; moral panic followed by accelerated interest.
In the litigious-hungry environment of the USA, there have been legal threats made to JUUL, and they seem to have responded by claiming that they have a way of restricting access by young people through using a Bluetooth-enabled age-verification system. This might sound like a ‘good thing’, but is it?
I wonder if there is now a new ‘moral panic’ about fake news. UK MP’s among others seem to think that fake news is undermining democracy. I’m not sure I’dgo that far (yet). I get most of my news from the BBC (including the excellent World Service) and I’m reasonably confident that the BBC can tell real news from fake news. What they decide to report on is another matter, but I do trust this news source and they are careful to say when some news story (usually reports of an atrocity somewhere in the world) cannot be independently verified. However, if you get your news from Willy Wonka’s News Blog or the social media equivalent of ‘my mates in the park’, then that may well be a different matter.
Over the years, the major companies have faced endless law suits on the basis that they both lied about the dangers of their products while also withholding information they knew would prove the cases against them. Eventually in the USA, the companies settled through the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement which means they will be paying forever. Although product liability must have been an important part of the litigation, manufacturing, selling and promoting cigarettes was not a crime. So key to the issue was the companies’ responsibilities to their consumers, in other words, issues of morality, ethics and rights.
As the first global state of tobacco harm reduction report is now in the tender care of the copy editors, time to cast an eye once again on the wacky world of THR.
As Tina Turner said, “Simply the best” – an excellent conference that keeps on delivering. And my big take home message from the whole event was “Run Your Own Race”. This was the concluding slide of Dr Joe Kosterich’s excellent Michael Russell oration – and what it means to me is that the THR community, however defined, needs to move onto the front foot and take the message to the people who don’t sit inside the bubble. And this message, in various ways, ran right through the conference.
Harry’s blog 61: The shiny blue moon of Kentucky
Because of the dominance of the tobacco economy in the state, Kentucky has not exactly covered itself in glory regarding tobacco control. You can smoke where you like (apart from in government buildings and schools); it has higher-than-national average adult smoking prevalence; it positions tobacco at the lower end of the tax bracket compared with other states; and until 1990 it set no minimum age for tobacco sales.
Galileo said, “By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox”. That certainly seems to pertain to official responses to harm reduction. And there are a few paradoxes to highlight this week.
The first is prompted by an article in the Washington Examiner about how American health authorities are facing up to the epidemic of opiate deaths :
From reading the esteemed work of Professors Wayne Hall and Lynn Kozlowski, I have been led into the world of moral psychology as it applies to harm reduction and the attempt to explain the root of passionately held views. The modern day moral psychology guru Jonathan Haidt argues that trying to reconcile opposing moral positions will never work if neither side is prepared to acknowledge where the other side is ‘coming from’.
I recall hearing Martin Dockrell from Public Health England remark that he put ‘popcorn’ into Google and ‘popcorn lung’ came up before err…popcorn in the search bar. ‘Popcorn lung’ is so nice and catchy, like ‘hippy crack’ (nitrous oxide, honestly) and ‘zombie spice addicts’.