Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Will Norwegian vapers lose their strongest supporters?

The Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research, SIRUS, will become part of the Norwegian Institute for Public health (NIPH) from January 1st 2016. This is presented in the revised national budget 2015 published today. Even if it wasn't official until today, the news didn't come as a surprise to the researchers who work at SIRUS as they'd already been informed that this would probably happen. 

SIRUS researchers have spoken out, contrary to the current advice of FHI several times in recent years. They've been positive to both snus and e-cigarettes as means to quit smoking, and have been one of the strongest, most influential voices of reason in the vaping debate here in Norway. When the NIPH published their report on vaping not long ago, which resulted in a lot of scaremongering in the media, SIRUS was immediately out there criticising it's obvious errors and presenting the real truth to the public.
Yesterday several of the SIRUS researchers told the media that this is not something they look forward to, as they fear they will loose their ability to freely express their views and results to the public when they become a part of the NIPH. Head of research at SIRUS, Karl Erik Lund fears that politics will become more important than the truth:
- I fear that alcohol and drug research will be part of politicians' extended arm if we become part of NIPH. We as scientists can not have a loyalty to the policy, we must have loyalty to our data.
Researcher Ellen Amundsen also thinks this is a bad idea:
In Sirus we have complete freedom to express our opinions as scientists in the media, based on what we do. I fear that we will not be able to do that as part of NIPH. I used to work there...
At NIPH there has been an internal justice that they must speak with one voice approved by management not to lose credibility. Admittedly, the current director said that researchers at NIPH will gain greater freedom of speech, but it can be difficult to combine with NIPH tasks.
 ... and so do researcher Hilde Pape that fears moral elements will stand in the way of science:
NIPH should provide advice. In it there is also moral elements, and it is far from being research. These include the government's advice that pregnant women should not touch alcohol at all. This is more moral than research-based, as any adverse effect from real-life moderate consumption is actually documented.
We risk losing freedom, freedom of speech and credibility. As scientists we must be able to cast doubt on established "truths".
While the scientist at SIRUS are concerned, NIPH director Camilla Stoltenberg said in a debate earlier this year that they are wrong about how NIPH handles openness:
The description they give of NIPHs handling of openness and debate is serious, and I think they're wrong. There is no reason why alcohol and drug research will weaken if Sirus becomes part of NIPH. On the contrary. To make it absolutely clear: The Institute will strengthen alcohol and drug research and continue to contribute to open debate on substance abuse, no matter how Sirus organized in the future.
Lots of nice words there, but what will happen when this organization changes is actually implemented, time will tell. As I said SIRUS has been one of the strongest supporters of e-cigarettes here in Norway, and have been very active in the media, getting real, science based facts and truths out in the media. They've been out there whenever some scaremongering propaganda has been planted in the media, or when the media themselves (decides to) misinterpret some report to create some horror story.

I do agree with Karl Erik Lund and the rest of the SIRUS scientists in that this is just wrong and that SIRUS should remain in it's current independent form to be able to continue to spread pure scientific facts, uninfluenced by politics and moral. But sadly I don't think that this is going to happen. What we can hope for however, is that they will manage to influence the NIPH in a positive way. I also do believe they will try their best, cause I think they've shown us that they're not the kind of people that will be easily silenced. So do I think Norwegian vapers will lose their strongest supporters now? Honestly, I don't think we've seen the last of these guys in the media. I think we'll continue to see them speaking the truth to Norwegian media, but if they will do it on behalf of NIPH I don't know yet. If Camilla Stoltenberg is true to her words, there is hope.



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