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A Billion Dollar Lie: We must not take our eyes off Big Tobacco

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Region of the Americas aims to be smoke-free by 2022

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Tobacco giant wants to eliminate smoking . . .

. . . and pigs might fly

http://www.bmj.com/content/358/bmj.j4443

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, an “independent” research funding body fully funded by Philip Morris, launched on 13 September.1 It will provide $960m (£711m; €808m) over 12 years to help “eliminate smoking worldwide.” No benchmarks for this modest task have apparently yet been announced. This largesse is a mere $80m a year from a company with global revenue in 2016 of $26.7bn2 and a marketing budget (in 2012) of $7bn intended overwhelmingly to promote smoking.3

Harm reduction

The long, deceptive, and failed history of tobacco harm reduction has seen filters (including crocidolite asbestos); misleading “reduced carcinogen” brands; and a wide range of breathlessly announced innovations.4 Each of these had their academic touts. None reduced harms from smoking, and the “lights” and “milds” reduced risk fiasco5 arguably kept many smoking who may have otherwise quit. Electronic vaporisers, with their growing consumer acceptability, may turn out to be the real deal. But with less than a decade of widespread use, any verdict on their status as much less dangerous may be decades premature.

The vaporised nicotine industry, including Big Tobacco, is now focused on how it can break down potent regulatory controls on vaporised products and assure consumers about safety.

“Buying scientists”

In the past, Philip Morris has publicised seductive research funding and courted prominent scientists, including US epidemiologist Ernst Wynder, the first proponent of tobacco harm reduction.6 The new foundation’s director, Derek Yach, former leader of the World Health Organization’s tobacco control programme, is acutely aware of why it does this, having written powerfully in 2001 about the industry “buying scientists” to serve commercial objectives and help thwart effective tobacco control.7

Will this be a modern Faustian tale, as many expect, or will Yach have the success with Philip Morris that he heroically failed to experience in trying to turn Pepsi into a health oriented company for six of his post-WHO years?8 Doubtless he will have a predictable coterie of supplicants for the foundation’s money. But the breathtaking arrogance of Philip Morris and Yach shunning WHO’s article 5.3 on industry interference in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control9 supported by 180 nations will surely steel the resolve of thousands of researchers to continue to shun money obtained from tobacco sales with its unavoidable ethical problems. Nearly 120 health organisations have now called on the company instead to simply stop selling cigarettes,10 what Philip Morris (USA)’s website describes as its “core product.” This is, of course, thoroughly naive, because shareholders would prevent any serious attack on the company’s profitability to which cigarettes are central. Euromonitor estimates that the 2016 global market for combustible tobacco was $736bn while that for e-cigarettes was $12bn.11

If Philip Morris really wanted smoking rates to decline it could announce tomorrow that it will voluntarily introduce large graphic health warnings and plain packaging on all its tobacco products. We know, from countries where it has been forced to do this, that this could happen within 12 months.12 Knowing the impact of price on sales, it could massively increase its wholesale prices to retailers. It could stop all its tobacco advertising and sales promotions.

But Philip Morris and other tobacco companies have done nothing voluntary to embrace any policy that would accelerate the decline in smoking in populations. So they will do none of this and instead continue to reward staff who increase tobacco sales.

Importantly, Philip Morris has legally attacked potent tobacco control policies like graphic health warnings and plain packaging.13 The tobacco industry has armies of lobbyists whose goals are to defeat, dilute, and delay any policy or initiative that threatens its cash cow.

“Useful idiots”?

So will Yach actively join the world tobacco control community in attacking such activities or will he be historically numbered among prominent “useful idiots,” as Lenin might have called them,14 formerly working in tobacco control, who now attend global tobacco industry meetings to cheer on their tobacco host’s “game changing” while doing nothing about this industrial vector’s daily efforts to promote smoking?

Disturbingly, the main task for tobacco control is now increasingly framed by such quislings as convincing smokers to switch to vaporised products, not preventing and quitting smoking. Some even talk of vaping by children as being “protective” against future smoking.15

Just as car manufacturers now producing electric motor vehicles have not abandoned the production and sales promotion of fossil fuel powered cars, no tobacco company would do the equivalent with its combustible tobacco products. But progressive governments like France, Germany, India, and Norway have set dates after which the sales of new fossil fuel powered vehicles will be banned. Many more will follow.

Over many decades, governments have acted to ban a huge range of unsafe, deadly products (thalidomide, asbestos, chlorofluorocarbons, countless unsafe consumer goods), and exploitative practices (slavery, people trafficking, child labour). With tobacco companies now embracing the rhetoric of the end of smoking, it is time for governments to take the industry at its word and set those dates when combustible tobacco products will be banned.

Footnotes

• Provenance: Commissioned, not peer reviewed.
• Competing interests: None declared.
References
1. ↵
Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. Global foundation launched to accelerate an end to smoking. 13 September 2017. www.smoke-freeworld.org/newsroom/global-foundation-launches-accelerate-end-smoking.
2. ↵
Philip Morris International. Dear shareholder. 2017. http://media.corporate-ir.net/media_files/IROL/14/146476/AR_2017/index.html#letter.
3. ↵
Corporate Accountability International. New report: Philip Morris International global marketing campaign targets teens, violating the law. 2014. www.stopcorporateabuse.org/press-release/new-report-philip-morris-international-global-marketing-campaign-targets-teens.
4. ↵
Parascandola M. Lessons from the history of tobacco harm reduction: The National Cancer Institute’s Smoking and Health Program and the “less hazardous cigarette”. Nicotine Tob Res2005;358:779-89. doi:10.1080/14622200500262584 pmid:16191749.
5. ↵
Wilson N, Weerasekera D, Peace J, Edwards R, Thomson G, Devlin M. Misperceptions of “light” cigarettes abound: national survey data. BMC Public Health2009;358:126. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-126 pmid:19426502.
6. ↵
Fields N, Chapman S. Chasing Ernst L Wynder: 40 years of Philip Morris’ efforts to influence a leading scientist. J Epidemiol Community Health2003;358:571-8. doi:10.1136/jech.57.8.571 pmid:12883059.
7. ↵
Yach D, Bialous SA. Junking science to promote tobacco. Am J Public Health2001;358:1745-8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.91.11.1745 pmid:11684592.
8. ↵
Charles D. How one man tried to slim down Big Soda from the inside. National Public Radio 2013. www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/01/28/169733003/how-one-man-tried-to-slim-down-big-soda-from-the-inside.
9. ↵
Bialous S, Chapman S, Freeman B, Shatenstein S. Tobacco industry interference with tobacco control. World Health Organization. WHO Tobacco Free Initiative. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2008. www.who.int/tobacco/resources/publications/Tobacco%20Industry%20Interference-FINAL.pdf.
10. ↵
Unfairtobacco. Open letter from 115 groups to PMI. 2017. www.unfairtobacco.org/en/open-letter-quitpmi.
11. ↵
He E, Felstead A. Big Tobacco has a death wish. Bloomberg Gadfly. 2017. www.bloomberg.com/gadfly/articles/2017-09-20/philip-morris-and-the-slow-death-of-smoking.
12. ↵
Chapman S, Freeman B. Removing the emperor’s clothes. Plain tobacco packaging in Australia. Sydney. Sydney University Press 2016 p92. https://ses.library.usyd.edu.au//bitstream/2123/12257/7/9781743324295_Chapman_RemovingtheEmperorsClothes_FT.pdf.
13. ↵
Gartrell A. Philip Morris ordered to pay millions in costs for plain packaging case. Sydney Morning Herald. 2017; July 9. www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/philip-morris-ordered-to-pay-australia-millions-in-costs-for-plain-packaging-case-20170709-gx7mv5.html.
14. ↵
Wikipedia. Useful idiot. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Useful_idiot.
15. ↵
Current opinions on teen vaping run the gamut from harmful to protective. http://youthandsocialissues.com/e-cigarette-use-as-a-predictor-of-cigarette-smoking.

Tobacco control threatens to implode over new initiative

The tobacco control industry spectacularly turned on itself this week, with the launch of a new foundation dedicated to end tobacco smoking. Far from being welcomed across the industry, the move has led to open hostility between harm reduction advocates and prohibitionists.

https://www.vapingpost.com/2017/09/22/tobacco-control-threatens-to-implode-over-new-initiative/

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, an independent non-profit organisation, is headed by former World Health Organisation tobacco control chief Derek Yach and supported by leading harm reduction advocates like Professor Marewa Glover. Initial funding totalling $80 million per year for the next twelve years has come from PMI, which seems to be what’s sent public health zealots into a flat spin. Although the foundation’s by-laws make clear that it’s free to spend the money without interference or oversight by donors, the idea of industry funding for a harm reduction organisation has triggered prohibitionists on a huge scale.

A hysterical outburst by UCSF’s Stanton Glantz, entitled Derek Yach’s journey to the Dark Side is now complete, accused the foundation of being a “PR effort” and “industry front group”. An equally over-excited blog post on the British Medical Journal’s website repeated the “front group” smear, and accused Yach of “dismissing 40 years of tobacco control activism”.

The BMJ post’s authors include Anna Gilmore (a British professor who has been implicated in using her seat on a funding committee to allocate taxpayer funds to herself), Ruth Malone from UCSF’s School of Nursing and Australian pensioner Simon Chapman. Among their many complaints is that the tobacco control industry is “already vibrant” and has “fresh ideas”. However the foundation’s launch video, produced by A Billion Lives director Aaron Biebert, points out that current strategies based on restrictions and punishing smokers have run out of steam – and the tobacco control establishment has run out of ideas.

WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat’s statement on the launch of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat (Convention Secretariat) notes the launch of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, led by a former official of the World Health Organization.

http://www.who.int/fctc/mediacentre/statement/secretariat-statement-launch-foundation-for-a-smoke-free-world/en/

The Convention Secretariat regards this tobacco industry-funded initiative as a clear attempt to breach the WHO FCTC by interfering in public policy. It is a deeply alarming development aimed at damaging the treaty’s implementation, particularly through the Foundation’s contentious research programmes.

The WHO FCTC is the world’s only tobacco control evidence based treaty and has been commended by global leaders as providing the primary roadmap to a tobacco-free world. It has 181 Parties, representing 180 States and the European Union, and is supported by numerous nongovernmental organizations.

The Convention Secretariat wishes to make the following points and clarifications:

1. With regard to the president of this Foundation

Although the president of the Foundation was part of the WHO Secretariat during the negotiation of the WHO FCTC, the treaty had no single architect. It resulted from the work of hundreds of committed government representatives, individuals and organizations, and that is its greatest strength – teamwork.

The Foundation’s president is in no way linked to the Convention Secretariat, nor does he represent the Convention Secretariat’s views.

2. With regard to the Foundation’s funding

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World describes itself as an independent organization. It reportedly will be funded solely with almost US$ 1 billion from Philip Morris International, the tobacco conglomerate.

There is extensive experience of tobacco-industry funded research that was later used to prevent effective tobacco control policies. It is clear that the industry aims to follow the same path in the area of non-traditional tobacco products, which are unregulated in many countries.

3. With regard to interactions with the tobacco industry

Parties to the WHO FCTC should note that any collaboration with this Foundation, due to its current funding arrangement that comes from a tobacco multinational, would constitute a clear breach of Article 5.3 of the Convention concerning tobacco industry interference.

Parties to the Convention have agreed, through the Guidelines to Article 5.3, that activities described as “socially responsible” by the tobacco industry, constitute a marketing and public-relations strategy that falls within the Convention’s definition of advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Parties should not endorse, support, form partnerships with or participate in tobacco industry activities described as socially responsible. Tobacco industry is clearly looking for a seat at the table.

4. With regard to new products

The tobacco industry is introducing new products in pursuit of profit rather than public health. For example, new “heat-no-burn” products contain tobacco and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) contain nicotine, an addictive substance regulated through appropriate policies under Article 5.2(b) of the Convention related to legislative and administrative measures.

Parties to the Convention have agreed to consider applying regulatory measures to prohibit or restrict the manufacture, importation, distribution, presentation, sale and use of ENDS, as appropriate to their national laws and public health objectives. If other novel tobacco or nicotine products emerge, the way that they are treated needs to be considered in the same way.

5. With regard to possible effects on tobacco growers

Article 17 of the WHO FCTC requires Parties to promote, as appropriate, economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers and growers. The tobacco industry knows that it creates social problems, including the use of child labour. Initiatives endorsed by the industry and those it funds are not designed to solve the problems it creates, but to give a false impression of sympathy for its victims.

6. With regard to the impact of the WHO FCTC on public health

The WHO FCTC, despite the efforts of the tobacco industry to prevent progress, has substantially improved global public health through the evidence-based measures it endorses.

The WHO FCTC has been recognized as playing “a critical role as an authoritative and agreed catalyst and framework for action.” The use by the tobacco industry of research to prevent effective tobacco control policies, now in relation to non-traditional tobacco products, is proof that the policies originating from Parties’ implementation of the WHO FCTC provisions are having an important and lasting effect on tobacco control.

Wait, What? Tobacco Giant Backs Foundation to End Smoking

An old adage in journalism states that when a dog bites a man, it’s not news. But when a man bites a dog, now, that’s news. Well, the proverbial man just bit the dog in the form of a nearly $1 billion pledge to reduce smoking from the maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2017/9/18/turning-over-a-new-leaf-tobacco-giant-backs-foundation-to-end-smoking-1

Philip Morris International will donate $80 million a year for the next 12 years to the recently launched Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. The new foundation stresses independence from its donors and their agendas, but so far, the company behind Marlboro is its only backer.

The donation comes as Philip Morris is said to be preparing for a smoke-free future. More than 3 million smokers have switched to the company’s e-cigarette IQOS, according to Bloomberg. IQOS heats tobacco to produce a vapor instead of burning it, which the company believes makes it less harmful than conventional cigarettes. The company asked the FDA to approve marketing that sells the product as a device that may reduce the chance of smoking-related diseases.

Derek Yach, the man heading the new foundation, is a vocal supporter of e-cigarettes. The devices, which don’t contain tar, provide a safer alternative for smokers to use while weaning themselves off traditional cigarettes, Yach wrote in a 2015 editorial. Opponents argue that “safer” is not the same as “safe,” and claim that e-cigarettes act as a gateway drug for conventional cigarettes.

Yach is a former World Health Organization official who led the organization’s campaigns against health issues arising from unhealthy diets and smoking. He worked on a global tobacco treaty while at the organization, but has a history of making deals with the devil in the name of progress. Yach worked for PepsiCo for six years after leaving WHO, where he says he pushed the company to make products healthier, including chips with less salt and fat and drinks with less sugar. It’s hard to miss the parallels to Yach’s latest endeavor and its backer.

The Philip Morris donation to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World was met with skepticism from some.

Deborah Arnott, the CEO of Action on Smoking and Health, a public health charity based in the U.K., criticized the announcement. “Tobacco industry claims can never be accepted at face value,” she said. “The tobacco industry has a terrible track record of funding research designed to support its efforts to block policies to cut smoking.”

Arnott has a point. The tobacco industry has a long and checkered past in meddling in medical and research fields to benefit its bottom line. From the 1920s through the 1940s, the industry leaned heavily on advertising that claimed cigarettes were “physician approved.”

More recently, the industry funded research designed to support the claim that secondhand smoke posed no danger to non-smokers, a review of millions of pages of industry documents revealed. Research proving the opposite was used to support smoking bans in public and private places.

Some worry that the new foundation bankrolled by Philip Morris will also produce research and disseminate information that misleads the public. The International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease denounced the gift as “a billion-dollar bribe the tobacco company hopes will secure it a seat at the table with public health policymakers around the world… Through propaganda, it only has the potential to undermine, delay and obfuscate the work of public health policymakers and advocates who champion evidence-based measures to reduce tobacco use.” The Union said that the company will continue to spend exponentially more money to hook people in poor countries on smoking than on preventive efforts through the foundation.

Although smoking is on the decline in the U.S., tobacco use is still the leading preventable cause of death in the country, according the Center for Disease Control.

Worldwide, tobacco kills about 6 million people a year, which is more than AIDS and malaria combined. The number is projected to rise to 8 million by 2030.

Despite that, there’s not a widespread effort among funders to curb smoking, which is another reason the Philip Morris gift is notable. The two biggest names in the space right now are Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Gates Foundation. Back in 2015, the two teamed up to take on companies like Philip Morris that sue low- and middle-income countries to prevent their governments from enforcing strong tobacco control laws.

The tobacco giant’s intentions and the young foundation’s integrity remain to be seen.

The Union denounces PMI launch of a ‘Foundation for a Smoke-free World’

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Smoke-Free Car Legislation and Student Exposure to Smoking

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Onam to see tobacco smoke-free zones bloom in the capital city

Ahead of the frenetic festival and wedding season, florists in the city have decided to make their shops tobacco smoke-free. The decision, taken by the Trivandrum Florists Association, seeks to protect the environs of its 600 member families and the health and well-being of thousands of customers.

http://www.evartha.in/english/2017/08/31/onam-to-see-tobacco-smoke-free-zones-bloom-in-the-capital-city.html

Passing the resolution – in line with the Indian tobacco control law COTPA’s prohibition of smoking in public places – at its annual Onam gathering on Wednesday, the association also decided to set up statutory warning boards in member shops.

Association President M Vairavan Pillai presided over the function. General Secretary C Sasidharan Nair, Treasurer Haridas, Vice Presidents C Sukumaran Nair, K Radhakrishnan and S Ambika and Joint Secretaries S Sreekumaran Nair, T Suresh Kumar, T Manikantan and J Reena were also present.

The changing nicotine products landscape: time to outlaw sales of combustible tobacco products?

Abstract

Combustible tobacco products are unique both for the extraordinary harm they cause, and the fact that more than 50 years after these harms became known, they continue to be widely and legally available globally. However, the rapid evolution of the nicotine product marketplace in recent years warrants a re-assessment of the viability of phasing out commercial sales of combustible tobacco, and presents an opportunity to end the exceptionalism of combustible tobacco being permitted for sale.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2017-053969