Reflections by the President of INNCO about 2020 and What 2021 Will Bring

Dear members,

 With 2020 behind us, we reflect on the past year’s events and look forward to what is ahead in 2021. 

The pandemic created hardship, sorrows and disruptions, alongside the seemingly unending battles to secure and safeguard our access to safer nicotine alternatives. We remain optimistic, however, as INNCO and its members continue to advocate for tobacco harm reduction (THR) as a legitimate human right. Our collective voices are making positive changes in achieving risk-relative regulations across the globe.  

Some highlights of INNCO’s recent work:

  • As part of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) reporting process and at the request of the European Commission, the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) issued a preliminary opinion on electronic cigarettes in September. The SCHEER opinion, which will assess the most recent scientific and technical information on electronic cigarettes, is expected to be finalized in about a month and will influence the revision of TPD. INNCO made a robust submission (shared with members late last year), noting many inaccuracies and problems with the preliminary report.
  • Flavour ban battles are playing out across Europe and North America. To combat them, INNCO and our member from The Netherlands, ACVODA, commissioned a comprehensive review detailing the flawed analyses relied upon by the proponents of flavour bans. We expect the English version to be available soon for members to use in countries facing similar opposition.
  • We continue to be vigilant in responding to unfair portrayals of the work of our consumer advocates. Last month, our comments were published in the Tobacco Control Journal pointing out the inaccuracies of a University of Bath paper which claims that our 2018 WHO FCTC efforts were linked to the tobacco industry. We described the paper as “attenuated,” noting that it “undermines the genuine consumer movement that INNCO and its members represent.” INNCO has also submitted a comment (not yet published) to another article in the Tobacco Control Journal which, among other things, challenges the independence and credibility of consumer organisations.
  • The only western democracy to ban the sale of nicotine for vaping, Australia, has been a battleground for several years. Last year, INNCO made three submissions to the Australian government in support of consumer access to safer nicotine products. 

While flavour bans and other restrictions spread throughout North America and Europe, the Bloomberg-funded Union with support from WHO are waging an all-out war on safer nicotine products in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) impacting Asia, Latin America and Africa calling for a complete ban on these life-saving products in these regions.

  • INNCO’s detailed 10-point position paper refuting the Union’s arguments is being released towards the end of January. We are developing a global outreach plan to launch the paper.
  • INNCO has also been outspoken in expressing concern over the growing influence of foreign grants on health regulators in LMICs, including the Philippines, that may adversely affect the campaign to reduce the harm caused by combustible cigarettes.
  • INNCO’s Governing Board has made a commitment to expand outreach efforts in LMIC regions, including Africa and Latin America. We look forward to working closely with our partners there to support their efforts to spread awareness of THR.

Operationally, we continue to implement measures to make our social media work more impactful. An online, interactive repository is in the works. We are also in the final stages of the CEO search process. To date, we have received nearly 200 resumes, and will soon be conducting interviews. 

Importantly, the INNCO network has expanded and become more inclusive, as our organization has grown to 40 members and affiliates in 31 countries with the additions of Asovap Costa Rica, Asovap Peru, THR Brasil, THR Malawi, THR Nigeria and TTHRA Taiwan. We are thrilled to be working with our new members and to amplify their voices in the effort to achieve risk-relative regulations and access to safer THR products across the world.  

There are many accomplishments from 2020 of which we can all be proud. But our work is far from done. Millions more people will suffer serious health problems and die prematurely unless tobacco policies adopt a globally accepted framework which acknowledges the public health benefits of low-risk forms of nicotine use.

The new year brings a new set of challenges, from the impending TPD revision to the crucial FCTC COP9 in November, along with intensifying opposition in many countries. As the global THR consumer movement becomes stronger and more organised, we expect the attacks to also increase. We will face these hurdles together, working as a team to defend the rights of low-risk nicotine consumer organisations and their members, and for us to be recognised as legitimate stakeholders in the global efforts to reduce tobacco harm.

We welcome your inputs and support. Do reach out to us for any assistance and to share ideas and initiatives we can take up this year.

On behalf of the INNCO board and secretariat, I wish you all a safe and happy 2021.


Samrat Chowdhery

INNCO Governing Board