Its been a very strange year indeed…if 2020 could just fade into the sunset like an old cowboy on his trusted horse, that would be great…sigh
When AVCA was denied entry to a Public Health Seminar series this past February because of our alleged “tobacco industry connection”, we all first laughed a bit at the ridiculousness of it, then we found out why we were designated thusly, and there was anger, then admittedly, disappointment. We even sent emails to enquire as to what the justification for this shunning. No response, from anyone, at said University. Which left us no option but to do investigations on our own.
You see, AVCA was deemed connected to “big tobacco” because AVCA are members of INNCO and have attended the Global Forum on Nicotine in Europe. (Based on a website entry from overseas that didn’t even get the full name of AVCA correct – very sloppy.) Inference was made on this website, and the organisers of said Public Health Seminar, that because of our membership in INNCO, we had or are receiving or will seek funding from the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW).
Disclosure: I was part of the steering group and first board of Directors of INNCO. I made the decision to leave my voluntary positions at INNCO with the full support of the board of directors of AVCA back in 2018. The fact that INNCO was seeking funding from the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW) was potentially problematic in terms of public perception.
From my days of being a Research Administrator, I have learnt a few things about science and research. The most important being the maintenance of integrity in research and information endeavours because of the huge responsibility of literally having peoples lives depend on your work.
When doing scientific research, following the scientific method, you have a hypothesis (question) that you are going to investigate – in this case: Does AVCA have any financial connection to funds from big tobacco through INNCO/FSFW?
The next step in the process is to develop a method to test your hypothesis – in this case, either looking at AVCA’s financials which are publicly available on the charities commission website or asking someone at AVCA directly about it. (or answering emails querying why we were excluded from a seminar series we have attended and participated in for a few years)
After you have chosen your method, you then gather your evidence, make an objective analysis and state your findings and make a conclusion.
Your method SHOULD be thorough and your research should be objective in order to maintain the integrity of your research (and yourself). The evidence will either prove/disprove your original hypothesis.
Reminder: these same people are given entre to speak on the behalf of what is in the best interests of the public as it relates to Tobacco Harm and yet they have chosen, based on a dodgy, unsubstantiated website entry, to exclude the main stakeholders/beneficiaries of public health policy, without due diligence.
In saying that, we have always been very open and transparent – we will talk with ANYONE involved in the tobacco control space. Excluding anyone, whomever they are, leaves one with a partial picture of the entire overall situation. First hand information, that is analysed through the lens of lived experience, understanding and context is far more valuable in our work than second hand information that may or may not be inclusive, objective or biased.
We are a health education charity, we need to know information to share it with our members and the public. It is best to have information first hand, make objective analysis and then present it within context. Its called “due diligence” and operating with integrity, understanding our responsibility to the people who call upon us to educate, advocate and inform them of how the science and policies affect their journey to become, and remain smokefree.
We strongly decry the unfair application of FCTC article 5.3 which forcefully excludes consumers and the public with attempts to discredit us as “big tobacco” in order to exclude us from the narrative. The presumption that we are unable to make informed analysis, choices or decisions with regards to our own personal agency smacks of discrimination and denial of our human rights.
It is remarkably interesting to us, and to those in the wider global grassroots consumer advocacy movement, that this attack on the integrity of the voluntary work that consume advocates do is so easily promulgated as “fact” without any confirmation, from scientific researchers and their institutions.
We strongly denounce any institution that is involved in “scientific research” that does not follow the precepts set out in Integrity in Scientific Research: Creating an Environment That Promotes Responsible Conduct. In this article it is made very clear that “Integrity characterizes both individual researchers and the institutions in which they work. For individuals, it is an aspect of moral character and experience. For institutions, it is a matter of creating an environment that promotes responsible conduct by embracing standards of excellence, trustworthiness, and lawfulness that inform institutional practices.”
AVCA remains a member of INNCO because we firmly believe in the mission of consumer advocacy organisations working together. AVCA has not in the past, nor will in the future, ask for or receive any funding from INNCO, the Foundation or the Tobacco Industry.