The head of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Secretariat, Dr Vera Da Costa e Silva, has written a sharp criticism of the newly-launched US$1 billion Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSW), questioning its independence from its exclusive backer Philip Morris International (PMI).
“No government and no reputable academic, research or public health organisation should partner with PMI’s new foundation,” Da Costa e Silva wrote on the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control blog, citing Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC which states that signatories should protect tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests.
According to Da Costa e Silva, the launch of FSW “fits within a broader strategy of PMI attempting to present itself as a ‘stakeholder’ in tobacco control.”
The president-designate of FSW, Dr. Derek Yach, defended the organisation with an open letter to WHO FCTC, calling criticism premature. “The Foundation’s explicit purpose is to support harm reduction and reduce the public health burden of smoking-related diseases – which is totally aligned with WHO’s goals,” he wrote.
But the tobacco control camp took Yach’s sentiments with incredulity. According to the senior editors of independent peer-reviewed journal Tobacco Control, “the idea that there could be ‘shared value’ between FSW and tobacco control is illogical and disingenuous,” affirming they will not publish any findings from FSW. “This policy is in keeping with the WHO FCTC, which recognises a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests,” they write in a blog post entitled Why Tobacco Control still won’t publish tobacco industry funded work, even if the funding is laundered through PMI’s new ‘independent’ foundation.
According to the seven editors, FSW’s promise of independence from its paymaster is meaningless, as similar measures in the past have proved insufficient to protect against manipulation of science to influence policies and what they call the tobacco industry’s “egregious history of deception”.
They say FSW’s stated goals could be achieved more quickly “if multinational tobacco companies such as PMI: (1) committed to a timeline for phasing out commercial cigarette sales… ; and (2) ceased fighting effective tobacco control measures that are informed by evidence published in our pages and elsewhere.”
Meanwhile Da Costa e Silva pulls no punches in responding to Yach’s letter. “Taken as a whole, the tobacco industry’s corporate social responsibility programmes are an abomination, which seek to give the impression of action on important issues, while boosting its own profits and hiding its own role in creating problems,” she writes.
“Reams of research and legal documents on tobacco industry behaviour confirm that the Foundation’s public statements fit seamlessly into the tobacco industry’s strategy, which is to sell new products while continuing to sell cigarettes.”