The two faces of the tobacco industry during the COVID-19 pandemic

Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March 2020, the world’s major tobacco companies have geared their CSR efforts to present themselves as allies of public health in the fight against the virus. For example, in Georgia on 23-26 March British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI) donated money to the governmental StopCoV fund and publicly distributed face shields to journalists and emergency care specialists. In the same week, PMI made a financial donation to the Romanian Red Cross for testing equipment and mechanical ventilators, and on 31 March the Bangladesh Post reported that BAT donated Personal Protection Equipment to the country’s health-service providers. On 1 April BAT announced to global media attention that its US biotech subsidiary Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP) ‘made a significant breakthrough with our tobacco plant technology’ which could allow it to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 and called for partnerships with government agencies to test the vaccine on humans. Reynolds American Inc, now a BAT subsidiary, acquired KBP in 2014 and made similar well-publicised announcements on a treatment for the Ebola virus. However, its experimental drug ZMapp never made it out of the laboratory.

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