Ahead of its Annual Meeting, SRNT Embraced Censorship
This week, the Society for Research on Nicotine & Tobacco (SRNT) kicked off its annual conference in Baltimore, Maryland. After going virtual for last year’s conference because of COVID-19, this marked a return to in-person events for the membership-based organization. However, not all past attendees were welcomed to attend this year’s festivities.
For more than 15 years, scientists and researchers employed by “commercial tobacco product” manufacturers had been permitted to attend and present at SRNT meetings (although internal policy did not allow them to serve in leadership positions). Considering SRNT’s mission statement of “stimulat[ing] the generation and dissemination of new knowledge concerning nicotine in all its manifestations,” this policy of open dialogue seemed to serve the organization and its members well. If the industry chose to present at SRNT, they had to accept the possibility of facing pointed questions about their methodology, results, and motives.
That all changed in July of last year, when the SRNT board announced that it had voted to “ban” industry employees from registering for any future meetings.
In an email announcing the new policy, SRNT claimed that there had been “unprofessional or problematic behavior” from industry employees at past conferences. No concrete examples were given of this alleged bad behavior. This prompted letters from both Imperial Brands and PMI asking that the policy be reconsidered. It appears SRNT never responded to either letter.
The move to ban industry scientists was met with disappointment from some of its most veteran and respected members. This included Drs. Neal Benowitz (University of California, San Francisco) and Kenneth Michael Cummings (University of South Carolina, College of Medicine), both of whom spoke out at a Tobacco Online Policy Seminar a week after the announcement.
Nez Anderson: I Feel “Threatened,” So You Must Go
Those curious about what exactly constituted “problematic behavior” may have belatedly received an answer on Tuesday during SRNT’s pre-conference workshop, courtesy of Dr. Patricia Nez Anderson, incoming SRNT president and the vice president for the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health.
For Nez Anderson, who also sits on the board of the anti-vaping Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights organization, even the prospect of sitting next to a tobacco industry employee is enough to make her feel concerned for her safety.
“If we don’t feel safe having the industry sit out there — if I’m threatened because of what they did to my communities and that’s the conversation I’m having with them — they shouldn’t be here,” Nez Anderson emphatically argued in response to comments from other panelists who were opposed to the industry ban.
That was not all for Nez Anderson. She declared that the tobacco and nicotine industries were “racists and always have been racists.” She further explained that her goal was to “decolonize tobacco” and that there was no place in society for tobacco or nicotine use outside of ceremonial purposes.
Transforming SRNT into an Advocacy Organization
It would be easy to dismiss Nez Anderson as a crank, but her viewpoints seem to reflect those of a considerable number of SRNT members. For example, on the same day as Nez Anderson made her industry paranoia known, outgoing SRNT President Megan Piper delivered the news of the tobacco industry ban to roaring applause.
One SRNT 2022 attendee, who decided to continue his or her membership despite misgivings about the industry ban, summed up the state of the organization in e-mailed comments.
“This meeting, like many others, is slowly being transformed to advocacy for the anti-THR position advocated by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Truth Initiative,” the individual with a rich history in tobacco control wrote.
Indeed, if Nez Anderson’s comments were not bad enough, perhaps even more absurd commentary was offered during another session by Dr. Linda Alexander of West Virginia University. Even though she works in a state with one of the worst adult smoking rates in the United States, Alexander disgracefully used EVALI — a condition that had nothing to do with nicotine vaping — to dismiss vaping as a harm reduction tool.
The same audience that cheered the ban of tobacco industry scientists was silent as Alexander presented the below.
Regrettably, it appears SRNT’s future is not as a place of open debate and free thought, but one of institutional censorship, groupthink, and safetyism.