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 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. Organisers described the context 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 in Poland. Its 2020 conference was scheduled to take place in Warsaw in June. In March 2020 GFN 2020 was moved online due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.23 Organisers described the 2020 theme as: “Nicotine: science, ethics and human rights” and that it would concern “advances in the science of nicotine, alongside…ethical and moral arguments…as well as human rights issues that are of significant concerns for consumers and those who advocate for rights to health”.4

Its 2019 conference took place in Warsaw in June with the theme as: “‘It’s time to talk about nicotine’” and said it would “examine how attitudes towards the use of nicotine are changing and at some of its more positive and potentially beneficial uses”.5

The event features a number of discussion panels as well as a film festival and a keynote address called the Michael Russell Oration. In 2020, this speech was due to be given by Louise Ross, the manager of Leicester City Stop Smoking Service from 2004 to 2018, who is described in her bio on the GFN website as “initially sceptical” about vaping but “realised the huge potential benefit in embracing this new technology” after attending the E-Cigarette Summit in 2013.6 Ross is also the Vice Chair of the UK-based New Nicotine Alliance (NNA).7 In 2019 the keynote was given by Dr Ronald W. Dworkin, described as a practising anaesthesiologist who teaches at George Washington University and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.5

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”.4 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.”8

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 efforts in tobacco harm reduction.9

The 2020 GFN scheduled speakers include:1011

  • Clive Bates, founder of consultancy and advocacy practice Counterfactual and attendee of the industry-funded Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) since 2014;
  • Will Godfrey, founder and editor-in-chief of Filter magazine, a grantee of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW);
  • Moira Gilchrist, VP Scientific and Public Communications at Philip Morris International (PMI);
  • Clarisse Virgino, Philippine representative of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA),12 which is a member of the FSFW-funded International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO)13 and founded by KAC;14
  • Fiona Patten, Australian politician and leader of the Reason party;15
  • Pini Matzner, Senior Data Analyst at Signal Analytics,16 which has collaborated with FSFW to create a “Nicotine Ecosystem Intelligence Platform and Smoking Cessation Playbook”;17
  • Patricia Kovacevic, an American consultant who has previously worked at PMI and Lorillard (subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT))
  • Abrie du Plessis, former tobacco industry employee and lecturer in law at the University of Stellenbosch; and
  • Shane MacGuill, senior head of tobacco research at Euromonitor,18 which has received FSFW funding19 and PMI Impact.20

Researchers on the GFN 2020 speaker list include:

  • Marewa Glover, Director of Foundation-funded Centre of Excellence for Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking (COREISS), which is funded by the FSFW;
  • Gerry Stimson, founder and director of KAC;
  • Caitlin Notley, addiction researcher and lecturer at the University of East Anglia;21
  • Konstantinos Farsalinos, tobacco harm reduction researcher and advocate;
  • Riccardo Polosa, founder of the Centre of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction (CoEHAR), another Foundation grantee;
  • Roberto Sussman, Mexican scientist and writer of a technical guidance pamphlet on COVID and vaping circulated by Clive Bates;22
  • Kevin Mcgirr, Professor of Community Health Systems at UCSF and recipient of a 2018 FSFW research grant;23
  • Sree Sucharitha, professor of Community Medicine at Tagore Medical College and Hospital (India);24
  • Chimwemwe Ngoma, Project Manager of THR Malawi, a sub-grantee of Knowledge-Action-Change

The 2020 programme follows a 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.10

In 2019, GFN scheduled speakers included Moira Gilchrist from Philip Morris International (PMI) and Cecilia Kindstrand-Isaksson from Swedish Match. Scientists invited included Brad Rodu and Riccardo Polosa who have both received grants from tobacco companies. There are also libertarian blogger Martin Cullip, who has been honoured by industry front group Forest, and Terry Barnes, Lifestyle Economics Fellow25 at the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank which receives tobacco funding and consistently opposes public health policies.5

In 2018, GFN scheduled speakers included Laura Leigh Oyler from Reynolds American Inc (RAI), Oscar Camacho from British American Tobacco (BAT), and Christelle Haziza from PMI.2627 In 2017, invited speakers included two senior PMI employees who used the event to promote PMI’s heated tobacco products.92829 That year David O’Reilly, BAT’s Scientific Director was a panellist at a session on “Nicotine Futures: the tobacco industry and public health”.30 Cecilia Kindstrand-Isaksson, Director Public Affairs at Swedish Match, presented her company’s perspective on harm reduction and strongly criticised EU tobacco regulation that bans snus sales.31

Other invited GFN speakers with tobacco industry links have included:

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.3536 Gougelet’s tobacco harm reduction consultancy work is exclusively funded by American tobacco company RAI.37 For more details on its relationship with the tobacco industry, click here.

Links to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

Image 1: GFN Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Programme (source:, accessed February 2018)

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.38 It has made 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.35
  • Dr Marewa Glover, who sits on the GFN organising committee, has received funding to set up a Centre of Excellence in New Zealand.35
  • Chimwemwe Ngoma, who sits on the GFN organising committee, has received funding through THR Malawi, a sub-granteee of Knowledge-Action-Change.35
  • 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.39
  • Derek Yach, the founder and president of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World 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 (image 1).40 That programme continued in 2019 and 2020 with funding solely from the Foundation.41

The sponsorship programme, which in 2018 awarded 15 scholarships to projects up to the value of US$7,500 each, aimed to:40

  • build research capacity in the field of tobacco harm reduction;
  • develop the evidence base;
  • raise awareness of research and its implications for public health policy;
  • enable consumers to make more informed personal health choices; and
  • improve the implementation and understanding of tobacco harm reduction.

A number of the scholarship winners appeared on panels at GFN2019.5

GFN’s acceptance of funding from the tobacco-industry funded Foundation goes against World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation,42 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”.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Secretariat has also issued a strongly-worded statement against collaboration with the Foundation:43

“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”.

Tobacco Funding Through ISoNTech?

Image 2: ISoNTech floorplan 9 May 201844

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 takes place “alongside” the International Symposium on Nicotine Technology (ISoNTech),45 which is part-funded by tobacco companies. ISoNTech is a parallel event for the tobacco and nicotine industries to showcase its harm reduction products (e.g. e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products, and smokeless tobacco), and promote these products to GFN attendees who can attend ISoNTech for free.4 Despite ISoNTech and GFN being presented as two separate events, they are both organised by KAC4647 and have shared a joint programme.48 Even though ISoNTech 2018 took place on 14 June only, its website promised clients that “the exhibition stand will be displayed in the ISoNTech area throughout GFN 18” for which the main sessions took place on 15 and 16 June.44 The 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.4

That same close relationship continued in 2019 and 2020. The web site for ISoNTech in 2019 said: “Following the success of ISoNTech during GFN18, the organisers plan to offer similar opportunities alongside GFN19 to developers, manufacturers and distributors to demonstrate new products and discuss their design and development.”49 The 2020 website stated the same information for GFN20.45

In 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. 50

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.44

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant Links

TCRG Research


  1. GFN 2014 archived main page, 2014, accessed June 2019
  2. Statement from the organisers on COVID-19, Global Forum on Nicotine website, 2020, accessed March 2020
  3. GFN goes online, Global Forum on Nicotine website, 2020, accessed May 2020
  4. abcdWelcome to #GFN20, Global Forum on Nicotine website, 2020, accessed February 2020
  5. abcdeProgramme, GFN website, 2019, accessed June 2019
  6. Michael Russel Oration 2020 will be delivered by Louise Ross, GFN website, 2020, accessed February 2020
  7. New Nicotine Alliance, Board of Trustees, undated, accessed May 2020
  8. Terms and Conditions, GFN website, undated, accessed February 2020
  9. abcdGlobal Forum on Nicotine, Presentations 2017, 2017, accessed February 2018
  10. abGFN 2020 Programme Outline, GFN website, undated, accessed May 2020
  11. Selected bios, GFN website, undated, accessed May 2020
  12. D. Caruana, Asia-Wide Movement Urges the WHO to Support Safer Smoke-Free Alternatives, VapingPost, 20 April 2020, accessed May 2020
  13. INNCO, CAPHRA: Asia Pacific, undated, accessed May 2020
  14. Global Forum on Nicotine, Notes from Consumer Advocates’ Meeting, 17 June, GFN website, undated (2018), accessed November 2019
  15. Fiona Patten MP, Leader of Reason, homepage, undated, accessed May 2020
  16. P. Matzner, LinkedIn profile, accessed May 2020
  17. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Minutes of a Special Meeting of the Board of Directors, FSFW website, 28 March 2019, accessed May 2020
  18. S. MacGuill, LinkedIn profile, accessed May 2020
  19. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Awarded Grants, FSFW website, undated, accessed February 2020
  20. A. Gallagher, A. Gilmore, Euromonitor International now accepts tobacco industry funding: a win for PMI at the expense of research on the tobacco industry, blog, Tobacco Control, 8 April 2019
  21. University of East Anglia, Caitlin Notley, undated, accessed May 2020
  22. R. Sussman & C. Escrig, Vaping and SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Technical Information for Vapers,, undated, accessed May 2020
  23. UCSF Profiles, Kevin McGirr, RN, MS, MPH, undated, accessed May 2020
  24. Tagore Medical College and Hospital, Teaching: Listing of Teaching Staff and Designation, undated, accessed May 2020
  25. Institute of Economic Affairs, Terry Barnes, undated, accessed June 2019
  26. Global Forum on Nicotine, Speakers 2018: Camacho, undated, accessed June 2018
  27. Global Forum on Nicotine, Speakers 2018: Haziza, undated, accessed June 2018
  28. M. Gilchrist, Heated Tobacco Technology: Science, Behavior and Avoiding Unintended Consequences, Philip Morris International, 16 June 2017, accessed February 2018
  29. T. Mc Grath, What is combustion and why is the absence of combustion important for heat not burn products, Philip Morris International, 16 June 2017, accessed February 2018
  30. Global Forum on Nicotine, Nicotine futures-the tobacco industry and public health,, published on 29 June 2017, accessed February 2018
  31. C. Kindstrand-Isaksson, Q: Borderline and novel products, markets and consumers, are regulations fit for purpose? A: No!, GFN website, 17 June 2017, accessed February 2018
  32. Global Forum on Nicotine, Speakers 2018: Kleykamp, undated, accessed June 2018
  33. abGFN 2015 report, GFN website, undated, accessed June 2019
  34. Global Forum on Nicotine, Speakers 2014, undated, accessed February 2018
  35. abcdGlobal Forum on Nicotine, GFN18 Programme Committee, 2018, accessed February 2018
  36. GFN Website, Programme Committee, undated, accessed June 2019
  37. Pinney Associates, Tobacco Harm Reduction, 2018, accessed February 2020
  38. Global Public Health Community, An open letter to the Director General and the Executive Board of the World Health Organization, Centre for Good Governance on Tobacco Control, 28 January 2019, accessed June 2019
  39. Attention Era, A Billion Dollar Foundation, undated, accessed May 2018
  40. abGlobal Forum on Nicotine, Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarships, 2018, accessed February 2018
  41. Knowledge-Action-Change, Scholarships, KAC Scholarships website, undated, accessed February 2020
  42. World Health Organization, WHO Statement on Philip Morris funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, 28 September 2017, accessed June 2019
  43. FCTC Secretariat, WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat’s statement on the launch of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, 19 September 2017, accessed June 2019
  44. abcISoNTech, Exhibition Packages, 9 May 2018, accessed June 2018
  45. abISoNTech web site, home page, undated, accessed February 2020
  46. Whois, Domain Information, last updated 8 June 2018, accessed June 2018
  47. ISoNTech, ISoNTech home, Whois website, accessed June 2018
  48. Global Forum on Nicotine, GFN + ISoNTech 2018 Programme, undated, accessed June 2018
  49. ISoNTech Website, Introduction, undated, accessed June 2019
  50. B.Petrzilka, BAT, email, June 2020
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