GTNF 2018 – Mapping the Future

Michiel Reerink

Speech by Michiel Reerink, Global Regulatory Strategy Vice President, JTI and Chairman of the GTNF Advisory Board


This year’s event marks the ten-year anniversary of the GTNF. What a long way we have come in those ten years! Who would have thought that that brave experiment, as it was described in Tobacco Reporter afterwards, would evolve into a conference as great as this one?

Because we are “mapping the future”, it is important that we reflect on where we are today, and on where we have come from.

The first GTNF I attended was called the global tobacco networking forum.

It is now the tobacco and nicotine forum. This name change reflects two important developments.

First, nicotine. The last decade has seen great changes to the industry. Some of these changes have come from within, as a result of tobacco companies investing in potentially reduced-risk products.

Other changes have come from outside. The tobacco industry has, similar to so many other sectors, been subject to major disruption. This is especially happening in the area of nicotine – with the emergence of electronic cigarettes.

Indeed, and when “mapping the future”, it is essential that we consider both tobacco and nicotine. The agenda for these two days clearly reflects this.

The second development is the word ‘and’. While some people would perhaps have preferred the term ‘or’, viewing the tobacco industry and the nicotine business as distinct, to me it is clear that there will be important roles to play for both. ‘And’ signals inclusivity.

There is another conference that went through a similar change in name, a long time ago.

I am talking about the world conference on tobacco or health. That conference was previously called conference on smoking and health.

That name change reflects a point of view that not smoking, but tobacco is the problem. Much like the framework convention is all about tobacco control.

Ten years ago, the GTNF was different. Attendees were largely from the tobacco industry, or its suppliers.

Looking at you, today’s audience, this is clearly no longer the case.

I am pleased to recognize many attendees from tobacco and from vaping companies – and their suppliers, who make up about half the audience.

I am even more pleased to welcome the many delegates representing outside views: experts in public health, think tanks, media, doctors, politicians and scientists – … – in no particular order – and with overlap, of course.

Ten years ago, the GTNF was an event for the tobacco industry. Now, it is about the tobacco and nicotine industries.

It has become one of the key conferences where commentators from inside and outside, will discuss issues surrounding the tobacco and nicotine industries, their products and their consumers.

Unlike the GTNF, the next FCTC conference of the parties, in just over two weeks, will be a closed event. There, decisions might be taken about how to eradicate the tobacco and nicotine industries.

By contrast, at GTNF, I look forward to two days of “mapping the future” of the tobacco and nicotine industries.

You will hear keynotes and panels, about the role that products developed by the tobacco industry, as well as products developed by disrupting companies, will play.

GTNF will be about tobacco products and about nicotine.

In many countries we already see increased competition between tobacco products, whether combusted or heated – or taken orally –   and nicotine products.

Consumers are provided with more and more choice and, let us not forget, ultimately it will also be the consumer who decides about the future of our industry, … or industries.

My map of the future is clear: I believe that there will be great opportunities for the tobacco and nicotine companies.

While we face continued disruption, the expertise and capital available within the tobacco industry will prove that, where smoking may be seen as the problem, the tobacco industry will be part of the solution.

But, if the fight against the industry, and its products, continues because of what happened in the past, then products with reduced risk potential might not become available for consumers to choose.

In that regard, when mapping the future, will the world conference change its name back to world conference on smoking and health?

Wil the framework convention on tobacco control recognize the concept of harm reduction and transition into a framework convention on smoking control?

Maybe that is too aspirational, too far in the future. It certainly will not happen next month, at the eight conference of the parties. Closed to the public, closed to the media, closed to the industries, stifling all debate, exclusive not inclusive…

As I said already, for me the map of the future is clear: there will be great opportunities for the tobacco and nicotine companies.