Nick Hopkinson: Tobacco industry collaborators sending equality up in smoke

November 13, 2020

British Medical Journal

It is widely believed that the American humourist and mathematician Tom Lehrer abandoned comedy because Henry Kissinger was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for bombing Cambodia. A bold new entry into the beyond-satire stakes is an online gender equality conference held by the Financial Times in partnership with, of all people, Philip Morris International (PMI). 

Perhaps this is to celebrate the fact that lung cancer now causes more women’s deaths than breast cancer? Or the tremendous work the tobacco industry is doing to increase smoking rates among women in parts of the world where these still lag behind men?

The reason Tom Lehrer actually gave for returning to academia was that “the headlines used to make me laugh, now they just make me angry…. it’s hard to be funny and angry at the same time.” If this was just the tobacco industry entertaining itself with some “feminism for the 1%” it would be bad enough. What is infuriating is the list of people who should know better who are prepared to lend their credibility to the exercise. Advertised speakers include Megan O’Donnell, the Assistant Director, Gender Program at the Centre for Global Development, Irene Natividad the President of the Global Summit of Women, Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code, Claire Barnett Executive Director, UN Women UK and Helen Grant MP who is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice and for Women and Equalities.

The 2018 Cape Town Declaration asserts that the activities of the tobacco industry are incompatible with the human right to health. The cultivation, production, processing  and disposal of tobacco products creates a substantial burden on the environment, felt mainly in low and middle income countries while the profits accrue to transnational corporations in the global north. [1] The tobacco industry has been identified as a major obstacle to the achievement of the UN’s sustainable development goals. [2] 

Philip Morris International is one of the world’s most prolific killers of women—participation in their bogus corporate social responsibility activities is a moral outrage.

Nicholas S Hopkinson, Reader in Respiratory Medicine, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College, London, medical director of the British Lung Foundation and Chair of ASH. @COPDdoc

Competing interests: none

  1. Zafeiridou, M., N.S. Hopkinson, and N. Voulvoulis, Cigarette Smoking: An Assessment of Tobacco’s Global Environmental Footprint Across Its Entire Supply Chain. Environmental Science & Technology, 2018. 52(15): p. 8087-8094.
  2. UN Development Programme, The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control an Accelerator for Sustainable Development. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/hiv-aids/-the-who-framework-convention-on-tobacco-control-an-accelerator-.html, 2017.

Nick Hopkinson