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Finding ‘common ground’ on shifting sands: observations on the conflicts over product regulation
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  • Published on:
    We Must Seek Harmony
    • Clifford E. Douglas, Director, Tobacco Research Network and Adjunct Professor University of Michigan School of Public Health

    Ruth Malone's pursuit of common ground in the tobacco control and broader public health communities is most welcome. As I emphasize in a new commentary that has received wide circulation (, we must collectively climb out of our bunkers, come to the table and genuinely work together. Everyone, on all sides of the concurrent debates over tobacco harm reduction and protecting youth must stop skirting the truth when it feels inconvenient and open our minds and ears to all of the science that is before us, while discouraging and abandoning studies and pronouncements that are demonstrably biased or inadequate. We must move beyond the adversarial nature of the debate and transparently acknowledge areas of ambiguity or concern.
    Combating the smoking epidemic is a social justice issue, as too little attention is now being given in many places, including the U.S., to prioritizing the importance of promoting adult smoking cessation and, for those adults addicted to smoking who cannot or are unwilling to quit nicotine -- many of whom are socially marginalized, poor, less educated, experience serious mental health conditions, or are members of the military or veterans -- helping them switch to less-hazardous, noncombustible forms of nicotine.
    Regardless of ideology and policy preferences, we...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    Fighting tobacco harm in the new nicotine landscape

    Professor Malone’s call for a better understanding of the context of the tobacco epidemic is timely. For tobacco as for sugar and alcohol, the extent of population harm is linked to the historic growth of an oligopoly which has used economies of scale, aggressive sales tactics and ingredient modification to transform commodities into highly-processed, convenient and affordable artefacts1-3. At a time when the pandemic has brought the role of governments in protecting the public into greater focus, the implementation of market restrictions which we know to be effective in reducing demand (higher tax, minimum price, minimum pack size)4 should receive a new impetus.

    Professor Malone’s call to unite opponents and proponents of ‘newer and novel nicotine and tobacco products’ (NNNTPs) around opposition to the tobacco industry should be heeded. Imperial Brands’s recent decision to turn back to ‘neglected’ cigarettes after being ‘overly focused’ on alternative nicotine products shows that profits, not smokers’ lives, will always be the tobacco companies’ priority5. The enormous influence exercised by the tobacco industry over governments worldwide is perhaps the most pressing tobacco control issue today, with countries including the US continuing to score highly on the Global Index of Tobacco Industry Interference6.

    As to whether NNNTPs represent a ‘breakthrough’, it is not so much the products themselves that are disruptive, but rather the...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    Support Civil Dialogue on Issues of Smoking Harm Reduction

    I appreciated the editorial by Ruth Malone on finding "common ground" on the topic of product regulation and more broadly the role of tobacco control. I would certainly agree that the current climate in smoking harm reduction has become toxic and emotional, non-scientific, and counterproductive to achieving the public health goal of reducing premature deaths caused by using smoked tobacco (i.e., mainly cigarettes). I also agree that the cigarette companies are likely using this as a wedge to advance their own financial interests - what else would you expect? I don't think anyone interested in public health is suggesting that we dismiss the past bad actions of the cigarette manufacturers, nor accept the claims of manufacturers of alternative nicotine products. Rather, we need to heed the lessons of the past so as not to make the same mistakes going forward. The United States, the Tobacco Control Act created a framework that should incentivize manufacturers to move away from profiting from the sale of cigarettes that causes so much harm to consumers. Promoting dialogue summits would allow for participants to engage in a civil manner, educate one another about challenges and opportunities and agree to specific measurable goals and objectives. Bringing stakeholders together will not resolve all differences but it will allow serious and responsible stakeholders the opportunity to bring ideas forward and find areas of common ground...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    I'm an employee of the Medical University of South Carolina.
    I have NIH grants.
    I receive payment as an expert witness representing plaintiffs' in litigation against cigarette manufacturers.
    No cigarette or vaping company funding
    On the record as saying…
    The world would be better off without cigarettes
    Cigarette manufacturers should be held accountable for the injuries they’ve caused
    I also believe in the potential of smoking harm reduction