Michael Russell Award 2024. And the winner is…

Posted on June 14, 2024 By Colin

I AM PROUD TO ANNOUNCE that I received the Michael Russell Award for 2024. The Award honours someone who has made a substantial and innovative contribution to the science and understanding of safer nicotine products and tobacco harm reduction.

The award is presented each year at the Global Forum on Nicotine in memory of Professor Michael Russell, a psychiatrist and research scientist, who was a pioneer in the study of tobacco dependence and the development of treatments to help smokers quit.

Professor Russell identified that while pure nicotine carries little health risk, it is the main reason why people smoke. This understanding led him to write the widely quoted line “people smoke for nicotine, but they die from the tar”.

Award by Professor Gerry Stimpson

Professor Gerry Stimpson made the following speech in presenting the award (abridged version):

"The Michael Russell award acknowledges the insights that Mike Russell had in the 1970s about the individual and public health gains that could come about by separating nicotine from its dirty delivery system, the cigarette.

But it is an unrealised potential because of the antipathy towards tobacco harm reduction. That is why it’s so important that the award recognises people who have made a special contribution to advancing tobacco harm reduction.

The choice of recipient is always difficult, because there are so many people who deserve awards.

I won’t keep you in suspense!

I’ve always wanted to do the Oscars, so I’ll tear open the envelope and it’s my pleasure to tell you that the 2024 Michael Russell award goes to Colin Mendelsohn.

Colin came to tobacco harm reduction after a long career in general practice and with a special interest in helping people to cease smoking. He educated general practitioners about helping smokers, and helped develop national smoking cessation guidelines. One of the top national experts in the field of smoking cessation in Australia. Impeccable credentials.

He became aware of vaping through his patients in 2014. In 2015 he visited smoking cessation experts in London and realised the potential of vaping to help smokers.

His message – as the title of his book says – is ‘ Stop Smoking, Start Vaping’. But in Australia there is almost universal hostile opposition to vaping from government departments, health charities, and medical and public health organisations.

Impeccable credentials are no protection from hostile opposition, personal attacks, attempts at censorship, rejection by medical journals, complaints to professional bodies, and misrepresentation.

Despite this, he has never given up or slipped quietly away. Last year he announced his retirement – thank goodness that didn’t last long.

The second part of the title of his book is ‘The healthy truth about vaping’. He spreads the truth about vaping in a multitude of articles, in meetings with parliamentarians, in a newsletter for MPs, in submissions to inquiries, in media briefings, through webinars and much more.

He is a one-person advocacy organisation.

Australia will eventually give up its bizarre attempts to regulate vapes out of existence, and Colin will have helped make that happen.

Colin, the world is a better place because of you. So, it’s my great pleasure to present you with the 2024 Michael Russell Award."

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