…A more promising approach may be person-to-person, story-based communication about tobacco harm reduction.

Jeffrey Smith is a neuroscientist who has moved from academia to industry, and most recently to R Street, a Washington, D.C., think tank. He has learned the hard way that when it comes to nicotine and tobacco, data are almost impossible to separate from context and connotations.  

“I was always taught, and have taught others, that science isn’t personal. It is just a conversation related to theory, methods, analyses and conclusions,” he says. “I was truly disheartened when I would approach scientists at scientific meetings and was completely ignored and shunned due to my affiliation with industry.”

“I came into industry believing that my data are what mattered; I learned very quickly that was not the case,” he added.

That experience shapes his views on how best to move forward with harm reduction education. He doesn’t see industry, or academics, or the national regulatory or health agencies as optimal outreach partners in the current climate. He’s an advocate of working from the grassroots up rather than the top down.

Smith refers to the concept of “nothing about us without us,” where advocacy comes from those most directly affected by it: “That means people who have improved their health by switching to reduced-risk products, communicating that story to members of the community and with their healthcare providers.”

“It is much more of an arduous process starting at the national level first,” he concludes. “Things can change, and change quickly, in communities.”