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The Michael Russell Oration and Award

Cliff Douglas, the President and CEO of Global Action to End Smoking, presented this year’s Michael Russell Oration at the Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw, Poland

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The annual Michael Russell Oration was established by the Global Forum on Nicotine “to honour the work and memory of Professor Michael Russell, one of the pioneers in the study of smoking behaviour, clinical interventions and public policy action, who died in 2009.” This year’s Oration was delivered by Cliff Douglas, the President and CEO of Global Action to End Smoking.

The Michael Russell Oration 

Cliff Douglas told attendees that “we owe it to people to listen, to understand their challenges, to understand how they can reduce their health risks if they can’t or don’t otherwise want to stop smoking.”

He warned that those who felt the epidemic of smoking had been solved, that workable options were there, is a misconception.

Too many healthcare providers and the consumers they serve believe that their only options for quitting are either going “cold turkey” or using a medicinal nicotine replacement product such as nicotine gum or the patch. But we know that there are many individuals who either can’t or won’t quit smoking using cessation medicines.” 

Cliff continued: “It is a moral imperative that they not be forced to choose between those limited, and too often ineffective, options or nothing at all. Requiring people who smoke, in effect, to simply “quit or die” is inhumane, and it’s unacceptable.”

We must recognise and build upon the reality that well over a hundred million people across the globe have already made the decision to use vaping and other non-combusted nicotine products in their dedicated personal efforts to avoid painful and early deaths from smoking.”

The longstanding advocate for tobacco harm reduction continued by noting that vapes are far more appealing to smokers than the alternatives.

“…we also know they are more appealing, popular and effective for many people who are in urgent need of practical options to save their livesAnd we know that in many cases, as reported by the Cochrane Reviews and others, e-cigarettes, for their part, are often more effective than nicotine replacement medications in helping people stop using combustible tobacco products.” 

The Michael Russell Award for 2024

Following the Michael Russell Oration, Professor Gerry Stimson, the co-founder of the Global Forum on Nicotine, presented the Michael Russell Award for 2024 to Colin Mendelsohn, Founding Chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association.

"The Michael Russell award acknowledges the insights that Mike Russell had in the 1970s about the individual and public health gains that could come about by separating nicotine from its dirty delivery system, the cigarette,” said Professor Stimson. “But it is an unrealised potential because of the antipathy towards tobacco harm reduction. That is why it’s so important that the award recognises people who have made a special contribution to advancing tobacco harm reduction.”

Colin Mendelsohn worked as a GP in Sydney for 27 years and developed a special interest in smoking cessation and then worked for ten years exclusively in tobacco treatment, helping smokers to quit. Through contact with patients, Colin developed an interest in vaping and tobacco harm reduction – helping smokers who can’t quit to switch to safer nicotine products.

Impeccable credentials are no protection from hostile opposition, personal attacks, attempts at censorship, rejection by medical journals, complaints to professional bodies, and misrepresentation,” said Professor Stimson.

Despite this, he has never given up or silently slipped away. He really is a one-person advocacy organisation. Australia will eventually give up its bizarre attempts to regulate vapes out of existence and Colin will have helped make that happen.”

Accepting the Award, Colin Mendelsohn spoke about how well intended, highly restrictive regulations just don’t work. 

 “History has shown that harsh restrictions on a popular product simply send it underground. People find other ways of getting it. Australia now has one of the highest youth vaping rates in the Western world. 

Australia’s experience shows that highly restrictive policies lead to substantial unintended, harmful consequences. Politicians have a responsibility to understand the effect the policies they are pushing are likely to have in the real world. When policy fails, the costs – monetary or otherwise – can be significant.

Over 90% of Australia's 1.7 million vapers use the black market, a market that’s controlled by organised crime groups who import and sell disposable vapes in their millions. These vapes are totally unregulated and sold freely. Criminals compete with one another in turf wars to control market share, leading to firebombings extortion, homicides, intimidation - just like in all other drug wars. The vape market is Australia's second biggest illicit drug market, which we have created.

A couple of days ago, a health minister said in a radio interview, ‘I'm determined to drive the vaping industry out of the country’. Rather than being seen as an opportunity, vaping is a scourge on public health, apparently, in Australia. That's what we're up against.

A year ago, I was depicted on a national current affairs programme as a representative of Big Tobacco. It was very clear - a hit job, the usual sort of thing. I complained to the television channel, who denied that was their intention. But I just found out that the regulator disagreed with them. Last night, the TV channel published an apology on their website. It won’t make a lot of difference. But it makes me feel better.

Photo Credit:

  • Mic photo by Daniel Sandvik on Unsplash

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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