International Policy Digest: Scientists Should Continue to Collaborate with Big Tobacco

This article was first published in the International Policy Digest.

The scientific community is unrepentantly shutting tobacco industry experts out of its inner circle, consigning smokers to the scrapheap in the process.

The Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT), arguably the top organization for scientists interested in smoking, has taken the absurd decision to ban representatives of Big Tobacco from attending its annual conference.

It is actively ignoring valuable research in the sector just because it was carried out or sponsored by people who dare to associate with the tobacco industry. That has a direct effect on the general public.

Society is organically moving away from tobacco. Around the world, millions of smokers want to quit. But escaping an addiction is not easy. They need access to information and resources. For instance, electronic cigarettes – vaping – are the most effective tool for quitting smoking ever discovered. But because some tobacco companies have begun to contribute to the research around vaping – and indeed started selling vapes themselves – the SRNT doesn’t want to hear it.

E-cigarettes are an indispensable part of our palette of resources to help people quit smoking. They have a success rate of around 74 percent, much higher than nicotine patches, going cold turkey, or indeed any other method ever tested. Making the switch from smoking to vaping is worthwhile, too – the science is clear that it is much healthier. A lifelong vaper is approximately 200 times less likely to get cancer than a long-time smoker.

We can be in no doubt that vaping is healthier than smoking, and the science is clear that it is a great way to help smokers quit. We can surely all agree that smokers who want to quit should be given every opportunity to do so. It is a good thing, then, that tobacco companies are turning their attention to vaping en masse. But because the SRNT is determined never to be seen breathing the same air as anyone who works for Big Tobacco, collaboration between industry and academia is near-impossible.

That means there is less innovation, less funding for research, and fewer strides forward in vaping and nicotine technology than there otherwise could be. Inevitably, that means some smokers are unable to quit using vaping. They are left in the lurch by the SRNT’s prejudices. When scientists stick their fingers in their ears and slam their eyes shut, their ignorance and isolationism probably cost lives.

Around the world, millions of smokers want to quit but are unable to access the resources they need to do so. Because of prejudices about the tobacco industry, technologies with a proven track record of helping people quit cigarettes – especially vaping – remain out of sight and out of reach for many.

This kind of mentality is sadly widespread. Interpol, for instance, is easily the preeminent international organization aiming to bring the illicit trade of tobacco products to a halt. And yet, the World Health Organization – which objects to all forms of smoking, so surely agrees that the tobacco black market must be addressed – it refuses to collaborate with Interpol or allow its representatives to attend conferences related to tobacco policy.

Why? Because Interpol sometimes dares to work with Big Tobacco in order to track illegal shipments.

That’s right. The World Health Organization (WHO) which exists to keep us safe and healthy and has made eliminating smoking one of its key missions in the twenty-first century, is happy to allow illicit tobacco smugglers to go about their business in peace because it would rather virtue-signal about its righteousness than work with Interpol to bring those operating outside the law to justice and shrink the size of the tobacco black market.

Time and again, we see organizations like the WHO and the SRNT neglect the rights and concerns of consumers in order to uphold their own prejudices about the industry. If they really care about our health, as they say they do, they must put their virtue-signaling aside and instead prioritize innovation and progress in the field of tobacco and nicotine – even when that means working with Big Tobacco.

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