In Warsaw at GFN last month, the keynote speaker was Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. He has worked for a very long time in the field of harm reduction in relation to illicit drugs so his expertise is very much transferable to the tobacco and nicotine debate. Tobacco controllers have been claiming for years that the idea of THR – tobacco harm reduction – is just a tobacco industry ruse, and that it is a distraction. Don’t listen to it, they say, it’s all a con. Well no, actually, it is a real area of anthropological research and has been a for a very long time. It’s just that tobacco control prohibitionists don’t like it because it actively resists prohibition as a proven historical failure.
In Warsaw Nadelmann – an excellent speaker – delivered a 35 minute speech which was passionate and brilliantly engaging.
He talked about the folly of "the smokefree crusade" and how extremists in tobacco control want to (stupidly) make nicotine illegal. He talked about how public health "can sometimes be a totalitarian ideology" and that human rights should also apply to people who choose to consume less than healthy products. He railed against stigma and dehumanisation being used as a tool against the public, and spoke about how harm reduction is the only moral way of dealing with psychoactive substances that the human race has been drawn to for millennia. He touched on the demonisation of drugs, and tobacco, being linked to class snobbery, and how the puritan mentality is a "fascistic quasi-religious" movement which strives to accuse anyone defending the "deviant minority" to be "pro-drug", and "paid by industry" while refusing to recognise proper science and cost/benefit analysis. And lastly, urged that smoking should never, ever be made illegal because – and history proves he is correct – "prohibitionists always lose" and government policies, driven my moral panic, are actually very harmful and are often "killing people".
It should – if they have any care about doing the right thing – have made many of the tired, lazy, unimaginative prohibition-led tobacco controllers in the audience, with thoughts of the tobacco ‘endgame’ in their heads, shift uneasily in their seats.