Smoking – It’s Good for You.” Credit: B.

September 28, 2017; Reuters and Fortune

Skepticism abounded when Phillip Morris International announced it would fund and help set up a new body called the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. The tobacco giant plans to donate about $80 million a year for 12 years to this new organization with a mission of reducing the harm from smoking. Angry responses to this announcement came from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other anti-smoking entities.

The founder and president-designate of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Derek Yach, a former senior official at the WHO, said collaboration was necessary to win the war on smoking. Yach is described by Fortune as a strong advocate for the switch to e-cigarettes, which heat, rather than burn, nicotine-packed substances. Phillip Morris International seems to see these “vaping” options as its company’s future, with their first-quarter reports showing a tenfold increase in this market.

André Calantzopoulos, CEO of Phillip Morris, described this new foundation as a means to offer smokers less harmful options.

There is a unique opportunity today to significantly change the health trajectories of the millions of men and women who continue to smoke by offering them a better choice. The Foundation is a welcome driver of change, at a time when a smoke-free future is clearly on the horizon. We will welcome its recommendations to accelerate smoker adoption of less harmful alternatives.

Others vehemently disagreed. The World Health Organization, the health arm of United Nations, urged governments to stay away from this effort. “WHO will not partner with the Foundation. Governments should not partner with the Foundation and the public health community should follow this lead.” The International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (the Union) issued a press statement that denounced this Foundation’s launch as a “billion-dollar bribe that tobacco company hopes will secure it a seat at the table with public health policymakers around the world.”

The Union further indicated concern that this effort is closely associated with the company’s bottom line and has little to do with preventing smoking or saving lives:

We already have a foundation for a tobacco-free world—it’s the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control—a legally-binding health treaty with 180 countries committed to implementing measures that are proven to reduce tobacco use and the death and disease it causes.

A core measure of the WHO tobacco control treaty is to prevent the tobacco industry from interfering in public health policymaking. Where countries are not making good progress on their obligations under this treaty, you don’t have to look too far to find the tobacco industry thwarting progress—including by their mounting legal challenges to public health policy under international trade law; direct threats, intimidation and lobbying of governments; tobacco industry funded front groups advocating the rights of farmers and the hospitality industry.

The website of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World claims that it is independent of influence from the tobacco industry for its spending and activities. It indicates that its bylaws establish it as an independent research entity, with its own governance, ownership of data and ability to publish with protection against conflict of interest.

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World is an independent, nonprofit organization created to accelerate global efforts to reduce health impacts and deaths from smoking, with the goal of ultimately eliminating smoking worldwide.

Clearly, the World Health Organization and the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease see this new foundation differently and are urging nations and organizations to keep their distance. With Phillip Morris International as the only funding source for the foundation, perhaps their concerns are justified.—Carole Levine