GFN 2017 The Michael Russell Oration

Posted 15th July 2017 by Mawsley
The Global Forum for Nicotine (GFN) is the only international conference to focus on the role of safer nicotine products that help people switch from smoking. Safer nicotine products include e-cigarettes, oral tobaccos such as Swedish snus, and ‘heat-not-burn’ tobacco products. Ethan Nadelmann gave a compelling speech for the Michael Russell Oration at GFN 2017.

GFN does not receive any sponsorship from manufacturers, distributors or retailers of nicotine products including pharmaceutical, electronic cigarette and tobacco companies. GFN 2017 kicked off with the Michael Russell Oration. It was a powerful, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable half hour. He covered some of the problems facing the harm reduction movement, the quasi-religious stance of those opposed to vaping (making a reference to Nazis in the process) and questioned whether we need to change our language. Also, evidence everything – but not to over-rely on it. It’s a rousing call for the right of the individual to make his or her own decisions.

Michael Russell was a psychiatrist in training at the Maudsley hospital, in south London. The same place we covered last week in the research linking a drop in violence to helping patients move from smoking. He chose the topic of cigarette smoking for his research thesis in 1967 and his work prompted the US Surgeon General to accept that smoking addiction was a case of classic drug addiction and needed treating in the same way. Professor Michael Russell is credited with the phrase: "People smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar", and being the father of tobacco harm reduction.

“Harm reduction is where public health and human rights intersect”

Ethan Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York City-based non-profit organisation working to end the War on Drugs. Described by Rolling Stone as "the point man" for drug policy reform efforts and “the real drug czar,” Ethan Nadelmann is known as a high-profile critic and commentator on U.S. and international drug control policies.

Nadelmann began by highlighting that when he gave his first public address, twenty-five years ago, people were starting to link harm reduction with illicit drugs to harm reduction approaches with legal ones. “My first thought,” he said, “is that you’re [the tobacco harm reduction/vaping community] on ‘Easy Street’, compared with what we in the illicit drug field have been dealing with all of these years.”

“Addiction equals dependence plus problems.”

His point being that his fight has primarily been with the concept of who drug users are, whereas people who use nicotine products are (by and large) still deemed to be “normal people” and not “junkies”.

Despite its slow start, the presentation is both entertaining and informative as it picks up speed. A number of his points really hit home and some of his suggestions give pause for thought. Ethan Nadelmann’s Michael Russell Oration can be viewed above or from this link.