The purpose of the Forum for Civil Dialogue on Tobacco, Nicotine, and Alternative Product Harm Reduction and the series of dialogues at Morven, organized and conducted by the Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN), is to bring parties and individuals together in a safe haven to discuss a spectrum of issues pertaining to tobacco, nicotine, and alternative harm reduction strategies. The forum and the dialogues recognize that some forms of harm reduction will be part of a viable strategy for reducing disease and death caused by tobacco use. Its focus is therefore less on whether harm reduction should be considered a viable strategy and more on how–with what protections–it may be effectively implemented, not only in the United States and Europe but globally.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, each year over 400,000 Americans will die prematurely due to the use of tobacco, the deadliest and most extensive form of which is cigarette smoking. Globally, the number of premature deaths due to smoking is estimated by the World Health Organization to be 9 million per year, and there is concern that this number could rise to 30 million per year if corrective action isn’t taken.
While there are a number of effective strategies being employed to reduce the devastating toll caused by the use of tobacco, and most specifically by smoking, one that has gained both positive attention and controversy is tobacco harm reduction. Advocates for noncombustible forms of tobacco–nicotine products such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), and alternative products such as lozenges, gums, electronic cigarettes, and inhalers–are optimistic that these may pose significantly lower risks than cigarettes. There likely will be other innovative technologies coming on the market in the near future.
Because of the decades-long distrust of the tobacco industry and years without effective regulatory oversight, such as is now offered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are still many in the tobacco control community who remain fearful of the tobacco industry’s motivations in developing so-called “lower risk” products. Yet others argue that moving people away from the most deadly form of tobacco (the combustible cigarette) to significantly lower risk alternatives could have significant public health benefits.
What are the challenges, barriers, and opportunities that need to be considered? Is there common ground between a spectrum of interests that will serve a positive catalyst for change? Can a blueprint be developed that will serve the interests of public health nationally, regionally, and globally?
Harm reduction strategies are not unique to tobacco; they are used in many other situations where societies are presented with issues pertaining to risks and relative risks. This website will initially provide several reports on past dialogues as a means of educating and hopefully stimulating the involvement of a larger and broader audience in the future. As something that is relatively new in concept for the tobacco and nicotine environment, the work of the Institute and the website itself will adapt to that changing environment.