GGTC received invitations for two officers to attend the Smoke Free Dialogue, an event organized by SustainAbility, which is funded by the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW), on July 25 in Bangkok, Thailand. It came to our knowledge that many colleagues from the global public health community and the health ministries have received a similar invitation.
We take this opportunity to make it known why GGTC will not engage in this “dialogue,” in light of the fact that this is initiated by and involves the work of the Philip Morris funded Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW):
- The sponsor/ initiator, Foundation for Smoke Free World, is backed by the Tobacco Industry
FSFW is an entity entirely funded by a tobacco multinational company, Philip Morris International (PMI), [i] which is also aggressively marketing a heated tobacco product called IQOS to show its “commitment to the “smoke free world.” Analysts have challenged in detail FSFW’s claim relating to its independence, going into the nature of its operations and its agreement with PMI.[ii] Recent analysis[iii] of its tax reports show that most of its actions are geared towards public relations than on science.
- WHO and member states have denounced FSFW and urged public health community and governments not to engage with it
Early this year, the WHO reiterated its 2017 statement urging all Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), organizations, and individuals not to partner with FSFW because of its sponsor’s “known history of funding research to advance its own vested interest.[iv]” [v] [vi] At the WHO Executive Board, the FSFW’s attempts to engage with WHO was faced with scathing remarks from member states. It became clear then that FSFW is classified as “those representing tobacco industry interests” that the WHO, by policy, does not engage or partner with. Public health organizations all over the world have also rejected the attempts of the FSFW to engage in public health issues. Prestigious schools and research organizations have also opposed funding from FSFW.
- The development sector has a duty to comply with moral and legal duties to protect against tobacco industry interests
Tobacco control is now a key component of sustainable development while the tobacco industry’s practices of marketing and manufacturing its products and obstructing evidence-based life-saving measures have become identified as significant impediments to sustainable development. According to a UNDP report[vii], tobacco hinders progress in sustainable development goals in education, poverty, labor, gender, partnerships, environment, among others.
The tobacco industry and those promoting its interests have been identified as being responsible for the key barrier to tobacco control treaty implementation. The treaty obliges over 180 members to protect public health policies against the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry (Art 5.3). The Guidelines provide that public officials must not meet with the tobacco industry and those furthering its interests, unless it is strictly necessary for regulation. Hence, those working in the public health or development sector have:
a. a moral duty to help protect health policies from tobacco industry interests and
b. a legal duty to ensure that governments do not violate its duty to protect its policies against the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry.
Therefore, we reject and denounce this event and we strongly urge the public health community and government representatives do the same. Tobacco control has limited resources. If we do nothing to expose this tactic, the tobacco industry would succeed in distracting us with seemingly innocuous programs which vow change despite lack of independence and sheer conflict of interest. In other words, the tobacco industry would succeed in using its vast resources to further limit our capacity to do legitimate tobacco control work.
We also urge those who have received funding from the FSFW to reject and denounce such funding in order to be consistent with their moral and legal duties to promote public interests and protect governments from tobacco industry interests.
Eight million lives and more will continue to be taken by the tobacco industry annually, and a whole new young generation are foreseen to be addicted to its new products; let no one, especially those the tobacco industry funds, tell you otherwise.
Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) aims to address the single greatest obstacle to tobacco control, tobacco industry interference. It is a joint initiative of the School of Global Studies, Thammasat University and Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) and has been designated as the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat as the Knowledge Hub on Article 5.3, (treaty provision on countering tobacco industry interference). GGTC is also a key partner of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP).
[i] In September 2017, PMI pledged a $1 billion grant to FSFW, an organization that will provide grants for “medical, agricultural, and scientific research to end smoking and its health effects and to address the impact of reduced worldwide demand for tobacco.” FSFW’s patron, PMI, is one of the biggest transnational tobacco companies manufacturing and selling the world famous Marlboro brand and is currently introducing into the market ENDS, including e-cigarettes and IQOS (heat not burn) product. FSFW’s research grants will include research into the new products of PMI. Despite swimming in tobacco money, FSFW describes itself as “an independent, private foundation formed and operated free from the control or influence of any third party.” Furthermore, FSFW has been reported to be working with public relations firms and law firms linked to the tobacco industry.
[ii] McCabe Center for Law and Cancer (2018). The new Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World: independent or not? Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20180301174248/http://untobaccocontrol.org/kh/legal-challenges/new-philip-morris-funded-foundation-smoke-free-world-independent-not/ (accessed on 25 January 2019).
[iii] The Lancet published an article that analyzes on PMI-funded FSFW’s tax submissions. Evidence shows that most of the FSFW funding has gone more into public relations than into scientific researches. Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP) prepared an industry activity brief which analyses the Foundation’s 2018 tax return.
[iv] “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.”6
[v] Excerpt of WHO statement: “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.”
[vi] The FCTC Secretariat regards FSFW as “a clear attempt to breach the WHO FCTC by interfering in public policy…aimed at damaging the treaty’s implementation, particularly through the Foundation’s contentious research programmes.”
[vii] Excerpt from a statement released by the United Nations: “According to a report by WHO and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), it is estimated that up to one billion people could die from tobacco-related diseases this century. Currently, over seven million people die every year due to tobacco use. In addition, tobacco costs the global economy over a trillion dollars annually in medical expenses and lost productivity. As for the environmental impacts –deforestation and soil degradation for tobacco cultures, as well as water and soil pollution from cigarette littering – they cannot be overstated.”