Global Forum on Nicotine

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The Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) is an annual conference organised by London-based Knowledge Action Change Limited (KAC), which is funded by the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW) and headed by Professor Gerry Stimson.

The GFN should not be confused with the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF), an annual tobacco industry event.


The event was first held in 2014, with the context of the conference being described by organisers as:

“The arrival of new nicotine delivery systems, along with other lower risk alternatives to smoking, has forced rapid changes in nicotine science, public understanding, and the regulatory landscape. This has implications for many sectors including consumers, researchers, regulators, public health, tobacco control, policy analysts, and industry. The conference was designed to facilitate discussion across sectors”.1

It has been held annually since 2014, usually in Poland. The 2020 conference took place online due to the COVID-19 pandemic,2 while the 2021 conference took place in Liverpool, England.3

Its 2022 conference took place in June, in Warsaw. Organisers described the theme as “Tobacco Harm Reduction – Here for Good”, with topics including “The challenges brought by misinformation, in THR and beyond”, “Grown up conversations about tobacco industry transformation”, and “Is regulation supporting or undermining efforts to tackle smoking”.4

The event features a number of discussion panels as well as a film festival and a keynote address called the Michael Russell Oration which “honours someone who has made a substantial and innovative contribution to the science and understanding of safer nicotine products and tobacco harm reduction”.4

The forum’s website says that: “The unique inclusive nature of the GFN continues to provide a platform for exchange and debate of often-contentious issues”.5 In its terms and conditions, however, participants are told: “The organisers are aware of the need for good research. However, no participant may use attendance at the conference as an opportunity to collect data directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly on participants, or the event without the express permission of the organisers and the informed consent of subjects.”6

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

Tobacco Industry Speakers and Panellists

Supporting and facilitating dialogue with the tobacco industry, the GFN event has provided a platform for the tobacco industry to promote its role in in tobacco harm reduction.7

The 2021 and 2022 programmes have followed the pattern established in previous years of the GFN, with fewer representatives from tobacco control organisations and more from industry-linked harm reduction and e-cigarette organisations on its speaker line-up.34

GFN speakers and panellists have included:435897

  • Clive Bates, founder of consultancy and advocacy practice Counterfactual and attendee of the industry-funded Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) since 2014;
  • Martin Cullip, libertarian blogger, who has been honoured by industry front group Forest;
  • Jonathan Fell, tobacco industry analyst and founding partner of Ash Park;
  • Will Godfrey, founder and editor-in-chief of Filter magazine, a grantee of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW);
  • Marc Gunther, reporter, who delivered a keynote speech at GFN22 titled “The Unchecked Power of Philanthropy”;
  • Joseph Magero, chairman of Campaign For Safer Alternatives and recipient of the KAC-run Global Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship, which is funded by FSFW;
  • Mark Oates, Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute and Director of We Vape and the Snus Users Association,10 described as “consumer groups standing up for the right of individuals to use safer nicotine products”;
  • Flora Okereke, Head of Global Regulatory Insights and Foresights at British American Tobacco (BAT);
  • Derek Yach, President and founder of the FSFW until October 2021;
  • Dr Sudhanshu Patwardhan, Medical Director at the Centre for Health Research and Education (CHRE) who worked for BAT from 2005 until February 2019;
  • Amanda Wheeler, president of the American Vapor Manufacturers Association and owner of Jvapes;
  • Fiona Patten, Australian politician and leader of the Reason party;
  • Robyn Gougelet, Joe Gitchell and Bethea (Annie) Kleykamp from Pinney Associates, which provides consulting services to Juul Labs, BAT and Reynolds American Inc and subsidiaries;931112
  • Sarah Cooney, former Head of Scientific Collaboration & Communication at BAT;
  • Jeannie Cameron and Sairah Salim-Sartoni from Juul Labs;
  • David Cross, trustee on the board of the New Nicotine Alliance;
  • Charles Gardner, Director of Health, Science and Technology at FSFW;
  • Bengt Wiberg, CEO of Sting Free AB, a brand of nicotine pouches;
  • Harry Shapiro, Executive Editor of the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report, run by KAC and funded by FSFW;
  • Moira Gilchrist and Thomas Mc Grath, both from Philip Morris International (PMI). In 2017 they used the event to promote PMIs heated tobacco products;13714
  • Clarisse Virgino, Philippine representative of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA),15 which is a member of the FSFW-funded International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO)16 and founded by KAC;17
  • Pini Matzner, Senior Data Analyst at Signal Analytics,18 which has collaborated with FSFW to create a “Nicotine Ecosystem Intelligence Platform and Smoking Cessation Playbook”;198
  • Patricia Kovacevic, an American consultant who has previously worked at PMI and Lorillard (subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT);8
  • Abrie du Plessis, former tobacco industry employee and lecturer in law at the University of Stellenbosch;
  • Shane MacGuill, senior head of tobacco research at Euromonitor,20 which has received FSFW funding21 and PMI Impact;228
  • Terry Barnes, Lifestyle Economics Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank which receives tobacco funding and consistently opposes public health policies;23 5
  • Laura Leigh Oyler from Reynolds American Inc (RAI), Oscar Camacho from British American Tobacco (BAT), and Christelle Haziza from PMI were all listed on the 2018 programme9;
  • David O’Reilly, BAT’s Scientific Director appeared as a panellist in 2017 at a session on “Nicotine Futures: the tobacco industry and public health”;247
  • Cecilia Kindstrand-Isaksson, Director Public Affairs at Swedish Match, who in 2017 presented her company’s perspective on harm reduction and strongly criticised EU tobacco regulation that bans snus sales;257
  • Jeannie Cameron, JCIC International;7
  • Delon Human;26
  • Peter Lee; 7
  • John Pritchard from Imperial Tobacco; 12

Researchers on the GFN speaker and panellist lists have included:

  • Konstantinos Farsalinos, tobacco harm reduction researcher and advocate;
  • Gerry Stimson, founder and director of KAC;
  • Peter Hajek, Director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of London;
  • Cother Hajat, UK based public health physician and epidemiologist;
  • Paul Newhouse, Director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center;
  • Riccardo Polosa, founder of the Centre of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction (CoEHAR), another FSFW grantee;8
  • Brad Rodu, Professor of medicine and holds an endowed chair in tobacco harm reduction research at the University of Louisville, Kentucky USA;5
  • Alaran Aishat Jumoke, Tobacco Harm Reduction grantee under KAC;
  • Michelle Minton, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute;
  • Marewa Glover, Director of Foundation-funded Centre of Excellence for Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking (COREISS), which is funded by the FSFW;
  • Caitlin Notley, addiction researcher and lecturer at the University of East Anglia;27
  • Roberto Sussman, scientist and writer of a technical guidance pamphlet on COVID and vaping circulated by Clive Bates;28
  • Kevin Mcgirr, Professor of Community Health Systems at UCSF and recipient of a 2018 FSFW research grant;29
  • Sree Sucharitha, professor of Community Medicine at Tagore Medical College and Hospital (India);30
  • Chimwemwe Ngoma, Project Manager of THR Malawi, a sub-grantee of Knowledge-Action-Change.

“GFN Fives” were introduced to the GFN 2021 programme as an “innovative replacement for conference posters, GFN Fives are open to all and free to submit. In no more than five minutes, present a slideshow with a recorded voiceover”.3Across 2021 and 2022 GFN programmes, there were four GFN Five submissions from BAT, titled “9 Step Framework to Assess New Category Products”, “Bite-sized Science: Tobacco Heating Products”, “Year Long Study on a Tobacco Heating Product: 6 Month Data” and “Introduction to Tobacco Harm Reduction”, as well as several from JUUL and Imperial employees.34

Tobacco Interests on the Programme Committee

Robyn Gougelet, Senior Associate at consultancy Pinney Associates, was a member of the GFN 2018 and 2019 Programme Committee.3132 Gougelet’s tobacco harm reduction consultancy work is exclusively funded by American tobacco company RAI.33 For more details on its relationship with the tobacco industry, click here.

Links to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

There are a number of links between speakers at the GFN and the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. The Foundation describes itself as “an independent, private foundation formed and operated free from the control or influence of any third party”. However it is funded solely by Philip Morris International and been extensively criticised for its links with the tobacco industry.34 It has provided a number of grants to individuals and organisations. Those connected with GFN include:

  • GFN organisers Knowledge Action Change (KAC) under its chief executive Gerry Stimson has received various grants from the Foundation to carry out promotional events and commission reports.
  • Dr Rajesh Sharan, who sits on the GFN organising committee, has received funding to set up a Centre of Excellence in India.31
  • Dr Marewa Glover, who sits on the GFN organising committee, has received funding to set up a Centre of Excellence in New Zealand.31
  • Chimwemwe Ngoma, who sits on the GFN organising committee, has received funding through THR Malawi, a sub-granteee of Knowledge-Action-Change.31
  • Ricardo Polosa is one of three members of the University of Catania involved with the GFN. A spin off from the Italian university, headed by Polosa, has received funding from the Foundation to set up a Centre of Excellence.
  • Aaron Biebert curates the GFN film festival and his company was commissioned to launch the Foundation.35
  • Derek Yach, founder and president of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World until October 2021, gave the keynote address at the 2015 event.

Scholarship Programme

KAC and the GFN jointly launched a Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Programme in 2018, which was sponsored by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.36 The programme has continued every year since, with funding solely from the Foundation.3738 39

KAC state that the sponsorship programme was launched with five aims37:

  • Increase research and practice capacity in tobacco harm reduction;
  • Expand the evidence-base for new technologies and products, which contribute to reducing smoking and improving both individual and population health;
  • Introduce new thinkers, new ideas and new methods to tobacco harm reduction;
  • Improve risk communication, through the use of social media and new technologies Disseminate information, particularly to isolated groups and communities;
  • Target locations and populations where current activities and resources are limited, especially in low and middle-income countries where the need to build capacity is greatest.

The scholarship Prospectus states:

“Despite there being strong evidence for the effectiveness of a THR [tobacco harm reduction] approach, public understanding of the evidence base and its implications for both policy and personal health choices is limited. This is often not helped by sensationalist and inaccurate reporting in the media…The scholarship programme aims to redress this imbalance”40

A number of the scholarship winners have appeared on panels at GFN between 2019 and 2022.5834

GFN’s acceptance of funding from the tobacco-industry funded Foundation goes against World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation, which urged governments and the public health community not to partner with the Foundation:

“…research and advocacy funded by tobacco companies and their front groups cannot be accepted at face value. When it comes to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World there are a number of clear conflicts of interest involved with a tobacco company funding a purported health foundation particularly if it promotes sale of tobacco and other products found in that company’s brand portfolio”.41

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Secretariat has also issued a strongly-worded statement against collaboration with the Foundation:

“The Convention Secretariat regards this tobacco industry-funded initiative as a clear attempt to breach the WHO FCTC by interfering in public policy… There is extensive experience of tobacco-industry funded research that was later used to prevent effective tobacco control policies. It is clear that the industry aims to follow the same path in the area of non-traditional tobacco products, which are unregulated in many countries”.42

Links to Tobacco Industry Funded Event, ISoNTech

The GFN declares that it does not accept tobacco industry funding. The conference website states that it: “is funded by registration fees and does not receive any sponsorship from manufacturers, distributors or retailers of nicotine products including pharmaceutical, electronic cigarette and tobacco companies.”5

However, since 2017 the GFN has taken place alongside the International Symposium on Nicotine Technology (ISoNTech),43 which is part-funded by tobacco companies. ISoNTech is a parallel event for the tobacco and nicotine industries to showcase their newer nicotine and tobacco products (e.g. e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products, and smokeless tobacco), and promote these products to GFN attendees who can attend ISoNTech for free. Despite ISoNTech and GFN being presented as two separate events, they are both organised by KAC,4445 and share a joint programme. The 2018 GFN programme suggested that the foyer in which the ISoNTech exhibition stands were located would be used for coffee and lunch breaks as well as poster presentations, giving tobacco companies direct access to attendees.9 The 2019 and 2022 GFN programmes provided a time slot for GFN attendees to visit ISoNTech45In 2020, It was reported that Benjamin Petrzilka, external affairs manager and company spokesperson of BAT Switzerland SA, was actively promoting the forum and contacting journalists to join it, claiming that this is the only international conference to focus on the role of “reduced risk” nicotine products.46

That same close relationship has continued through to 2022. The website for ISoNTech in 2022 said: “Following the success of ISoNTech during #GFN17, #GFN18 and #GFN19, the organisers plan to offer similar opportunities alongside #GFN22. Developers, manufacturers and distributors are invited to demonstrate new products and discuss their design and development”.43

Image 1: ISoNTech floorplan 9 May 2018

ISoNTech is part-funded through exhibition space packages. Image 1 shows the ISoNTech Floorplan from 9 May 2018, which illustrates that the exhibition area was occupied by multinational tobacco corporations, notably PMI, BAT, JTI, and Altria. The size and arrangement of the exhibition stands on the floorplan imply that each tobacco company paid for the £7000 ISoNTech Premium package. Premium packages offered companies a speaker slot on the main stage, a larger exhibition stand, and two registrations to GFN. Other companies with ISoNTech exhibition stands included RJ Reynolds and Swedish Match.47 A similar arrangement was advertised in 2022, with ISoNTech’s website promising clients that “the exhibition stand will be displayed throughout GFN22”.43

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