New Delhi: Public health experts from over 100 organisations around the world on Tuesday urged the World Health Organisation Executive Board (WHO-EB) to reject a Philip Morris International-funded foundation’s appeal to the global health body to collaborate on tobacco control policies.
To do so would depart from WHO’s strict longstanding policy of not working with the tobacco industry, whose business practices have been proven to be contradictory with and detrimental to public health, they said.
Giving any consideration to an organisation that is entirely funded by the tobacco industry would fundamentally undermine the significant health and policy gains made to date on the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
It would specifically undermine WHO FCTC Article 5.3, which seeks to protect public health policies from the vested interests of the tobacco industry and on which much of the success of the treaty rests, the letter said.
“We therefore call on you to reject this approach, in the strongest terms, and reinforce WHO’s 2017 notice to governments and the public health community to reject any affiliation with FSFW because of the ‘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.”
When public health experts were alerted of the approach made in advertisements by Philip Morris International’s (PMI) Foundation for a Smoke-Free world (FSFW), more than 279 organisations and individuals in 50 countries signed an open letter put forward by STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products), a tobacco industry watchdog. The FSFW is funded entirely by the PMI.
A key concern is that the FSFW helps operationalise PMI’s corporate affairs strategy to further the company’s business interests.
While PMI and its grantee claim a commitment to reducing harm, reports show that PMI’s products, including heated tobacco products, continue to be heavily marketed in ways that attract children and undermine public health policy.
“PMI has a long and well-documented history of using third parties to infiltrate health policymaking, said Anna Gilmore, professor of public health at the University of Bath and research lead for STOP.
“No public health gain has ever been achieved by working with the tobacco industry so this latest approach by a PMI-funded entity must be rejected. Support to express outrage against the PMI-funded FSFW continues to pour in,” Gilmore added.
Signatories to the STOP letter note that engaging with FSFW would present a direct threat to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global treaty that guides the implementation of evidence-based policies that reduce tobacco use.
According to WHO, an estimated 7 million people die from tobacco-related causes every year.
The signatories from India include HRIDAY, Balajee Sewa Sansthan, AIIMS, Gramin Vikas Sewa Samiti and Chiranshu Samaj Kalyan Parishad, among others.