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New tobacco funded foundation is another industry interference tactic

New tobacco funded foundation is another industry interference tactic

The Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM) notes with concern the announcement of the launch of the Foundation for a smoke free World Initiative, to be headed by former tobacco control advocate – Dr Derek Yach. 

Yach, a South African, has been involved in tobacco control for several years. But the $80million funding per year this initiative will receive from Phillip Morris International must clearly be construed as an industry interference tactic, as noted by the World Health Organisation that Yach previously worked for. 

According to the ATIM Director, Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, the foundation is clearly a covert way to usurp the scientific agenda with the aim to undermine science and manipulate public opinion.

ATIM supports the statements of contempt issued by the World Health Organisation and the tobacco control community issued below:

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

WHO FCTC statement, 19 September 2017

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

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.

If Philip Morris Is Serious About a “Smoke-Free World,” It Should Stop Marketing Cigarettes, Fighting Efforts to Reduce Smoking

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Sep. 13 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Philip Morris International – the world’s largest non-governmental cigarette manufacturer – has announced that it is establishing a Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, with funding of $80 million per year over the next 12 years.

Philip Morris has a long history of deceiving the public and doing whatever it takes to sell cigarettes. This is not the first time Philip Morris has announced that it is funding “independent” research, nor is it the first time it has claimed to support “independent” researchers. Each of its past efforts have been nothing more than a smokescreen to divert attention from its marketing practices, the harm its products cause and the strong scientific consensus that already existed – both about the harm of its products and the scientifically proven ways to reduce tobacco use.  There is no reason to believe that this announcement is any different.

Today, we know how to reduce tobacco use. The scientific evidence is strong and conclusive.  The problem is that companies like Philip Morris continue to oppose the adoption of these policies and programs.

Philip Morris’ claimed commitment to a “smoke-free world” cannot be taken seriously so long as it continues to aggressively market cigarettes and fight proven policies to reduce smoking and save lives around the world. Until Philip Morris ceases these harmful activities, its claims should be seen as yet another public relations stunt aimed at repairing the company’s image and not a serious effort to reduce the death and disease caused by its products. The amount Philip Morris is spending on its new foundation is a drop in the bucket compared to the $75 billion in revenues and over $17 billion in profits the company reported in 2016, most of it from selling cigarettes.

If Philip Morris is truly committed to a smoke-free future, it should immediately take two steps: 1) Actively support the policies to reduce cigarette smoking that are endorsed by the public health community and an international public health treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC); and 2) set an example for the tobacco industry by stopping all marketing of cigarettes.

Philip Morris International’s actions show it remains a major cause of the tobacco epidemic, not a part of the solution:

There is a global consensus about how to reduce tobacco use. The problem is not a lack of evidence requiring research, it is the fact that Philip Morris and other tobacco companies continue to fight strong policies proven to reduce tobacco use around the world. Philip Morris continues to lobby against effective measures called for by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, such as higher tobacco taxes, graphic health warnings and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. An investigative report published by Reuters in July revealed a massive, secret campaign by Philip Morris to undermine the FCTC, depicting “a company that has focused its vast global resources on bringing to heel the world’s tobacco control treaty.” In recent years, Philip Morris has also filed numerous legal challenges to strong tobacco control laws adopted by Australia, Uruguay and other countries. It is the height of hypocrisy for Philip Morris to proclaim publicly that it is helping to solve the tobacco problem while it wages all-out campaigns against efforts to reduce tobacco use and save lives.

Philip Morris continues to aggressively market cigarettes around the world, often in ways that appeal to kids and much of its targeting low- and middle-income countries that can least afford the burden of tobacco-related death and disease. In a recent example, Philip Morris launched a global marketing campaign for its best-selling Marlboro cigarettes, called “Be Marlboro,” that uses themes and images that appeal to youth. The campaign, which has been rolled out in over 60 countries, features young people partying, falling in love, playing music and engaging in risky behavior. In many countries, Philip Morris and its subsidiaries have introduced flavored cigarettes that appeal to youth, conducted aggressive marketing near elementary schools, sponsored race cars and concerts, and engaged in other youth-oriented marketing.

This isn’t the first time Philip Morris has stated a commitment to funding research with the goal of reducing the death and disease caused by cigarettes, but every prior announcement was nothing more than a smokescreen to enable it to continue business as usual. In 1954, a Philip Morris vice president stated, “[I]f we had any thought or knowledge that in any way we were selling a product harmful to our customers, we would stop business tomorrow.” In 1997, Philip Morris CEO Geoffrey Bible said in a deposition that the company would halt production if presented with evidence that smoking causes lung cancer, stating he would “shut it down instantly.” Yet today, cigarettes make up almost all of Philip Morris International’s business and profits.

Cigarette smoking kills more than 7 million people worldwide each year and is projected to kill 1 billion people this century. To end this terrible epidemic, we need strong action by governments to reduce tobacco use, not empty promises from tobacco companies.

For the original statement, click here.

 

Canadian health groups respond to Philip Morris International’s $1 billion research fund

Government action needed to block tobacco industry interference in public health issues.

Canadian health organisations have called on the government to immediately restore public funding for tobacco control and to ensure that the costs of reducing tobacco use are passed on to the tobacco industry. This was in response to the announcement that Philip Morris International had pledged $1 billion to a new purpose-built foundation.

“In this recent ploy, Philip Morris is using the same bag of tricks it invented in the 1950s, to create its own research bodies in order to manipulate the research environment and delay effective measures to reduce smoking,” explained Neil Collishaw, Research Director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. [1]

“We risk repeating the tragedy of past decades unless the government moves quickly to ensure that the new challenges of e-cigarettes and so-called reduced risk products are addressed by reliable and uncontaminated research.”

“A year has passed since we provided Health Canada with proposals for ways to protect public health from tobacco industry interference in research and policy” said Melodie Tilson, Director of Policy for the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association. [2]

“Since that time, we have seen no action on any of our 20 recommendations, nor any indication that these are a priority of Health Canada. Recent events and the industry’s abuse of science as a front for tobacco marketing [3] have increased our concerns that Canada is vulnerable to tobacco industry interference.”

“The most recent intrusion of the tobacco industry into research funding is all the more dangerous in the context of massive cuts to tobacco control funding by the previous government, and the failure of the new government to restore resources for independent activities,” said Cynthia Callard, Executive Director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. “The Canadian Tobacco Control Research Initiative was defunded in 2009, and policy-focused community work was abandoned by Health Canada in 2012. The failure of the new federal government to restore this important work has left little national-level capacity for independent response to industry-funded disinformation.” [4]

“The federal government should apply the polluter-pay principle to public health by levying a regulatory charge on tobacco manufacturers,” explained Flory Doucas, Co-Director and Spokesperson for the Quebec Coalition on Tobacco Control. “We have previously made this recommendation as a way to require the industry to internalize some of the costs they impose on society.” Like many other health groups, the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada have recommended that Canada follow the example of the United States and France in imposing licencing fees on the industry. [5]

Tobacco control organizations are calling on the Minister of Health and parliamentarians to move quickly to implement these measures.

“Over the past months, Philip Morris International and other multinational tobacco companies have stepped up their efforts to re-invent their markets, their public image and their influence on government. Canadians need and deserve a federal government that will respond quickly and effectively to these new challenges,” said Michael Perley, Executive Director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco.

* Issued by the Non-Smokers Rights Association, Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada

[1] A history of these events can be found in documents provided to the Quebec Superior Court during the CQTS/Blais and Létourneau class action trials. See paragraphs 1342 to 1595 of the Plaintiffs’ Notes and Authorities. <http://www.smoke-free.ca/eyeonthetrial/Plaintiff_Notes_and_Authorities_public.pdf.>

[2] Canada’s Implementation of Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. A Civil Society Shadow Report. September 2016 <http://cqct.qc.ca/Documents_docs/DOCU_2016/MEMO_16_09_00_CCAT_shadowreport_Article5POINT3.pdf>

[3] L’Economiste. Philip Morris International: Le cigarettier parie sur les produits de substitution. <http://www.leconomiste.com/article/1017271-philip-morris-international-le-cigarettier-parie-sur-les-produits-de-substitution>

[4] Tobacco Info. Harper government guts Federal Tobacco Control Strategy. Big Tobacco wins big with $15 million cut from tobacco control budget. <http://www.tobaccoinfo.ca/mag10/federal.htm>

[5] Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada and <http://www.smoke-free.ca/eng_home/2017/Federal_2018_Budget_Submission-PSC2.pdfCoalition Québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac. Pre-Budget Submission 2018. <http://www.smoke-free.ca/eng_home/2017/Federal_2018_Budget_Submission-PSC2.pdf>

 

 

 

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New tobacco funded foundation: A “Frank Statement” for the 21st Century?

New tobacco funded foundation: A “Frank Statement” for the 21st Century?

As news unfolds  of the launch of the Philip Morris International funded Foundation for a Smoke-free World, the tobacco control community across the globe have voiced their outrage. In this post on the British Medical Journal blog page, renowned tobacco control activists Ruth E. Malone, Simon Chapman, Prakash C. Gupta, Rima Nakkash, Tih Ntiabang, Eduardo Bianco, Yussuf Saloojee, Prakit Vathesatogkit, Laurent Huber, Chris Bostic, Pascal Diethelm, Cynthia Callard, Neil Collishaw and  Anna B. Gilmore speak out.

 

The surprise announcement by the former head of the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Free Initiative, Derek Yach, that he would head a newly-established organization called the “Foundation for a Smoke-free World” to “accelerate the end of smoking” was met with gut-punched disappointment by those who have worked for decades to achieve that goal. Unmoved by a soft-focus video featuring Yach looking pensively off into the distance from a high-level balcony while smokers at ground level stubbed out Marlboros and discussed how hard it was to quit, leading tobacco control organizations were shocked to hear that the new organization was funded with a $1 billion, twelve-year commitment from tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI). PMI, which has been working for decades to rebrand itself as a “socially responsible” company while continuing to promote sales of its top-branded Marlboro cigarettes and oppose policies that would genuinely reduce their use, clearly believes this investment will further its “harm reduction” agenda, led by its new heat-not-burn product, IQOS. But don’t worry, the Foundation assures everyone that “PMI and the tobacco industry are precluded from having any influence over how the Foundation spends its funds or focuses its activities.”

Except that is what a broad range of industry front groups, sometimes headed by respected and even well-intentioned leaders, have been saying since the “Frank Statement” of  1954. The long and sordid history of the industry’s funding of “research,” a major part of the mission of this new foundation, is replete with exactly this sort of blithe reassurance, as Yach himself pointed out in an earlier time. In reality, nothing has changed. The “research” really isn’t the point anyway. The mere fact of having landed Yach is a major public relations coup for PMI that will be used to do more of what the industry always does: create doubt, contribute further to existing disputes within the global tobacco control movement, shore up its own competitive position, and go on pushing its cigarettes as long as it possibly can.

In the video, Yach invites “everyone” to join the “movement” this new organization is starting – implicitly dismissing the past 40 years of tobacco control activism and advocacy and 60 years of tobacco industry lies and duplicity. Leaders of active existing civil society coalitions like the Framework Convention Alliance and the Non-communicable Disease Alliance were blindsided. Contrary to the video’s claim, there is no shortage of “fresh thinking” in the already-vibrant, already-existing global movement to end the tobacco epidemic. There are many great “endgame”-furthering ideas now being actively debated, studied, and tried out: the primary obstacle to implementing them is the tobacco industry.

PMI  hasn’t stopped opposing the policies that would reduce tobacco use, has it? No: recently leaked documents  show that PMI continues to actively oppose any policy that could genuinely reduce tobacco use. Countries around the world identify the tobacco industry as the single biggest barrier to progress in implementing such tobacco control policies. This “new” initiative is just more of the same lipstick on the industry pig, but in a way it’s far worse this time: by using a formerly high profile WHO leader as a spokesperson, PMI can also accelerate its longstanding ambition to splinter the tobacco control movement.

It’s also not true, as the video suggests, that tobacco control efforts have “plateaued.” Cigarette consumption is declining and since 2003, more than 180 countries have become parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), committing themselves to implement effective policy measures and building public support for ending the epidemic. PMI knows this, hence its ongoing, covert and overt efforts to stymie the FCTC. For example, at the last Conference of the Parties, the meetings where implementation of the treaty is discussed, tobacco farmers organized by PMI demonstrated outside the venue and PMI representatives met secretly with delegates to the meeting.

The company hasn’t announced it is going to stop promoting cigarettes to kids in Africa and Asia, has it? No: in fact, it’s developing “stronger” products for some markets, and  continuing to aggressively promote Marlboro cigarettes to the young through campaigns like “Be Marlboro”(see also here and here). Despite decades of developing and then abandoning so-called “reduced harm” products, cigarettes remain PMI’s biggest moneymaker, dwarfing anything else. Only the profoundly naïve will believe that PMI is not solely promoting its self-interest in supporting this new “foundation”.

In fact, the announcement came the day after a huge win for tobacco control: the exclusion of  tobacco companies (as well as makers of cluster bombs and some other unsavory actors) from membership in the United Nations Global Compact, due to their  incompatibility with responsible business principles. Tobacco control leaders across the globe are convincing governments to protect health policymaking from tobacco industry influence, in line with Article 5.3 of the FCTC. PMI’s response is a new industry sponsored entity, eager to work with governments. From its inception, this organization will constitute a challenge for Article 5.3 implementation.

The timing of the announcement was interesting in another way: just the day before, a new global health initiative led by former US Centers for Disease Control head Tom Frieden was announced, with $225 million in funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. While this initiative does not focus solely on tobacco, these funders know how much tobacco contributes to disease and death worldwide. They are also funders who have unequivocally taken positions supporting the strong policy measures that work.

What is required to end smoking isn’t helping the world’s leading cigarette manufacturer in its ongoing image makeover while it continues to try to derail the significant public health progress made to date. What is required is leaders who have the humility to work with the movement and policymakers with the backbones of steel needed to stand up to the industry to enact and implement strong tobacco control measures, including high taxes, smokefree laws, effective media campaigns to denormalize both smoking and tobacco companies, and marketing, packaging and retailing regulations to make these deadly products less ubiquitous. The global movement public health activists built over decades of toiling in the trenches must stand together and not allow PMI to buy more time by executing a 21st century version of the  “Frank Statement.”

The authors would like to thank Elizabeth Smith and Patricia McDaniel for their input to this article. This blog post first appeared on the BMJ blog site. For the original post, click here.

 

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