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

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Tobacco control: a Foundation too far?

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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.

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Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest plotting ‘assault’ on the tobacco industry

Suing big tobacco for the costs of smoking-related illnesses is on the radar of an organisation set up by billionaire iron ore magnate and philanthropist Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-30/andrew-forrest-cancer-centre-to-take-on-tobacco-industry/9004204

The $75-million Eliminate Cancer Initiative (ECI), funded by Mr Forrest and wife Nicola, is seeking legal advice on the potential to mount a case seeking billions of dollars in compensation from tobacco companies.

ECI said the potential litigation would likely be based on a landmark Canadian lawsuit where three tobacco companies were ordered to pay more than $15.6 billion in damages to smokers in Quebec.

“What we do need to keep in mind is the impact and cost associated with those smokers who are now coming through the healthcare system,” ECI chief operating officer Bruce Mansfield said.

“We do need to recognise that there is a cost associated with tobacco and therefore an approach that needs to be considered very sensibly is for those industries to actually take some of the burden away from the community and of course the government.”

Mr Forrest said to tackle cancer, smoking must also be tackled because it was the single-greatest cause of preventable death.

“Cancer is the greatest cause of disease burden in Australia and, personally, it has caused the misery of every single generation of Forrests since the premature death of Lord John Forrest in 1918,” Mr Forrest said.

“One hundred million lives will be lost in the next decade — one in six deaths and with a rising incidence by 70 per cent in the next two decades.

“We must erupt change and bring this devastating disease to its knees.”

The potential litigation would be part of a multi-pronged “assault” on the tobacco industry that is also seeking to have major financial institutions cut tobacco companies from their investment portfolios, Mr Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation said.

The Australian Council on Smoking and Health has welcomed the move to put the burden of health costs back on the tobacco industry.

“The biggest impact of a successful legal action would be to hasten the demise of the tobacco industry in Australia,” president Maurice Swanson said.

“We all know that tobacco is expensive in Australia and that’s because we have relatively high taxes and they have been successful at reducing the number of smokers in Australia but those taxes are paid by individual smokers.

“The most compelling reason we’re calling for this sort of action is that taxpayers are the group that picks up the tab for the treatment of smoking caused diseases.

“The tobacco industry itself, the most lethal industry in the world, contributes nothing to compensate governments for the healthcare costs that are incurred by the consumption of their lethal product.”

‘We must hold them to account’

Cancer Council chief executive Sanchia Aranda also applauded the move and explained most governments do not have the finances to go head to head with big tobacco.

“Most countries haven’t gone down this way because the tobacco industry has very deep pockets,” Professor Aranda said.

“The tobacco industry has known for over 50 years that its product kills and yet they continue to manufacture and promote this product and market it to unsuspecting young people worldwide.”

Legal action poised to be announced within days

More than 15,000 Australians are diagnosed with preventable cancers caused by tobacco each year and 12.2 per cent of the population currently smoke.

Professor Aranda has commended the Federal Government for policy measures taken to decrease smoking rates, including tobacco taxes and the introduction of graphic warnings on packaging, but said they do not work for everybody.

“There’s certainly the belief that since graphic warnings and plain packaging that Australians should be well aware of the dangers of smoking but the problem is that tobacco smoke or the nicotine within that is highly addictive and it takes a very short time to become addicted to cigarettes,” Professor Aranda said.

“Even people who’ve given up some years ago in the older generations are facing tobacco-related illnesses — not only cancers but respiratory disease, vascular disease, heart disease — so we see this as the biggest burden of healthcare costs in Australia for the foreseeable future,” she said.

ECI said this concern was why part of their efforts would also look at lobbying for further policy changes such as raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco.

The organisation is expected to make an announcement regarding the potential challenge to the tobacco industry in the coming days.

Open Response to Letter of 14 September 2017 calling on PMI to stop selling cigarettes

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