Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

Conflicts of Interest

Tobacco industry attempts to frame smoking as a ‘disability’ under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act

Download (PDF, 700KB)

Tobacco industry-funded Foundation fits in a longestablished and sinister pattern of corporate chicanery

Download (PDF, 149KB)

Towards a smoke-free world? Philip Morris International’s new Foundation is not credible

Download (PDF, 256KB)

Tobacco control: a Foundation too far?

Download (PDF, 44KB)

Commentary on the launch of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

September 2017 saw the launch of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which describes itself as “an independent, non-profit organization created to accelerate global efforts to reduce health impacts and deaths from smoking, with the goal of ultimately eliminating smoking worldwide”.

http://blogs.bmj.com/tc/2017/10/13/commentary-on-the-launch-of-the-foundation-for-a-smoke-free-world/

The creation of such an organization would usually be a matter for celebration among the tobacco control community and especially for the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the United Nations tobacco control treaty, whose Secretariat I lead.

And yet this is not good news. The Foundation is currently 100% funded by Philip Morris International (PMI). The company has already pledged around US$1 billion for the period of 12 years or around US$80 million a year. To put that in context, this is more than eight times greater than the entire WHO FCTC annual budget.

The Foundation claims that its funding source doesn’t matter, since its bylaws prohibit tobacco industry interference, and safeguard against conflicts of interest, thereby guaranteeing its independence. We are asked to believe that this industry-funded organization will simply ignore the commercial interests of its paymaster. We are asked to believe this where the organization is established to work on specific issues of interest to PMI, where that work may promote other products that contain nicotine and have the ability to sustain addiction, and where the paymaster can decide not to continue funding the organization from one year to another. How can masters of this Foundation that claim to be independent be unaware of PMI’s lobbying strategies, and ensure that their Foundation is not inadvertently supporting bad public health policy?

The establishment of the Foundation ties into a broader PMI strategy to ensure that there is little or no regulation on new tobacco products PMI is producing. It also fits into the tobacco industry’s corporate social responsibility schemes. Such projects are designed to mislead or confuse public opinion. They are the anti-truth.

How do we know? Reams of research and legal documents on tobacco industry behaviour confirm that the Foundation’s public statements fit seamlessly into the tobacco industry’s strategy, which is to sell new products while continuing to sell cigarettes. Over decades, tobacco industry dollars have funded influence buying, covert activities and scientific misrepresentation. Industry money has never advanced the cause of public health, as is made clear in excruciating detail by the millions of tobacco industry documents. These reveal, for example, that firms have “sought to influence debate by buying up scientists on a spectacular scale.”

PMI recently rejected an appeal from 120 Organisations asking it to halt the production of cigarettes. To make it plain, if the company were serious about making the world smoke-free they should immediately stop fighting, in several countries, tobacco control measures to implement the Framework Convention.

This Foundation fits within a broader strategy of PMI attempting to present itself as a “stakeholder” in tobacco control. Some examples of these initiatives include PMI Impact,which claims to counter the illicit trade in tobacco products but in fact serves to slow and disrupt the entry into force of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. Another tobacco industry initiative, which PMI co-funds, is the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT). With little impact on reducing child labour on tobacco in low and middle income countries, this Foundation detracts from implementation of Article 17 of the WHO FCTC, which calls upon governments to support tobacco workers and growers to switch to alternative sustainable livelihoods.

Taken as a whole, the tobacco industry’s corporate social responsibility programmes are an abomination, which seek to give the impression of action on important issues, while boosting its own profits and hiding its own role in creating problems.

Parties to the WHO FCTC have pledged, through Article 5.3 of the treaty, to resist tobacco industry interference. In a 2016 ruling against the tobacco industry, a senior English judge accurately summarised this key Article and its Guidelines : “[T]he tobacco industry should be treated as having adopted a deliberate policy of subverting public health policy through, inter alia, the deployment of its substantial capital and organisational resources to generate evidence designed to contradict the established policy consensus… that this evidence is unreliable, i.e. false.”

WHO FCTC Parties should therefore adopt legislation or rules to implement Article 5.3 and ensure they do not promote, participate in or endorse tobacco industry involvement, directly or through these “foundations”, in initiatives related to tobacco control. No government and no reputable academic, research or public health organisation should partner with PMI’s new foundation.

It is already clear that this tobacco industry-funded Foundation fits a long-established and sinister pattern of corporate chicanery. The industry’s aim, after all, is not to help its customers but to profit from them.

The tobacco industry’s new “partnerships” with supposedly independent organizations do constitute a serious threat, but we have a response to hand.

It’s called the WHO FCTC, and it’s the true foundation for a smoke-free world.

Dr Da Costa e Silva is the Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat.

Wellcome statement: corporate event hire cancellation

Download (PDF, 20KB)

Health Minister met with British-American Tobacco reps, lobbyists

Download (PDF, 122KB)

Investors Demand Action from Hollywood on Smoking in Youth-Rated Films

Download (PDF, 40KB)

Festival organisers cut deals with tobacco firms, gov’t inspectors step in

Download (PDF, 86KB)

WHO Statement on Philip Morris funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

WHO statement http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2017/philip-morris-foundation/en/

28 September 2017

On 13 September 2017, tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) announced its support for the establishment of a new entity – the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. PMI indicated that it expects to support the Foundation by contributing approximately USD 80 million annually over the next 12 years.

The UN General Assembly has recognized a “fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health.” (1) WHO Member States have stated that “WHO does not engage with the tobacco industry or non-State actors that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry”, (2) the Organization will therefore not engage with this new Foundation.

Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) obliges Parties to act to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 state clearly that governments should limit interactions with the tobacco industry and avoid partnership. These Guidelines are also explicit that Governments should not accept financial or other contributions from the tobacco industry or those working to further its interests, such as this Foundation.

Strengthening implementation of the WHO FCTC for all tobacco products remains the most effective approach to tobacco control. Policies such as tobacco taxes, graphic warning labels, comprehensive bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and offering help to quit tobacco use have been proven to reduce demand for tobacco products. These policies focus not just on helping existing users to quit, but on preventing initiation.

If PMI were truly committed to a smoke-free world, the company would support these policies. Instead, PMI opposes them. PMI engages in large scale lobbying and prolonged and expensive litigation against evidence-based tobacco control policies such as those found in the WHO FCTC and WHO’s MPOWER tobacco control, which assists in implementation of the WHO FCTC. For example, just last year PMI lost a six year investment treaty arbitration with Uruguay, in which the company spent approximately US$ 24 million to oppose large graphic health warnings and a ban on misleading packaging in a country with fewer than four million inhabitants.

There are many unanswered questions about tobacco harm reduction (3), but the research needed to answer these questions should not be funded by tobacco companies.

The tobacco industry and its front groups have misled the public about the risks associated with other tobacco products. This includes promoting so-called light and mild tobacco products as an alternative to quitting, while being fully aware that those products were not less harmful to health. Such misleading conduct continues today with companies, including PMI, marketing tobacco products in ways that misleadingly suggest that some tobacco products are less harmful than others.

This decades-long history means that research and advocacy funded by tobacco companies and their front groups cannot be accepted at face value. When it comes to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, there are a number of clear conflicts of interest involved with a tobacco company funding a purported health foundation, particularly if it promotes sale of tobacco and other products found in that company’s brand portfolio. WHO will not partner with the Foundation. Governments should not partner with the Foundation and the public health community should follow this lead.