Tobacco company launches foundation to stub out smoking

Sarah Boseley Health editor
The tobacco company says that it believes its future is in smoke-free nicotine delivery systems such as e-cigarettes. Photograph: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images


One of the world’s biggest tobacco companies has launched the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, claiming that it wants to see a future in which people will stop smoking its cigarettes.

Philip Morris International (PMI) says its future is in e-cigarettes and other smoke-free nicotine delivery systems, but anti-tobacco campaigners were highly sceptical, pointing out that it had not stopped marketing the cigarettes it agrees are harmful.

In a public relations coup for PMI, the foundation will be headed by Derek Yach, a former senior figure at the World Health Organisation who was responsible for the launch of its global tobacco control treaty.

“I have been working with PMI to establish a foundation to accelerate the end of smoking and tackle the consequences for tobacco farmers,” said Yach in an email. “From the start, the intent has been to create an independent foundation that meets the very highest standards of legal and ethical norms and that addresses scientific verification in innovative and needed ways.”

But he added: “For many of you this will raise many concerns given my background and PMI’s stance on tobacco.”

Yach is one of many who believe that vaping offers real possibilities for cutting smoking globally, but others say the tobacco industry has to remain a pariah until such time as it stops promoting lethal cigarettes.

“This should be viewed with the same amount of skepticism as any other announcement from PMI would receive,” said Cloe Franko from the campaigning organisation Corporate Accountability International.

“With more and more countries implementing the lifesaving measures of the global tobacco treaty and institutions like the UN Global Compact severing ties, one has to wonder if this is simply another attempt by PMI to regain a lost foothold in international and public health arenas. At the very least, this is clearly an attempt to lock in e-cigarettes and other ‘reduced harm’ products as the solution to the public health epidemic that PMI continues to drive and profit from.

“Simply put, if Exxon Mobil launched a foundation to combat climate change, would anyone take it seriously?”

Vince Willmore, vice president of communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said: “The company’s claimed commitment to a “smoke-free world” cannot be taken seriously so long as it continues to aggressively market cigarettes and fight proven policies to reduce smoking around the world. Until Philip Morris ceases these harmful activities, its claims should be seen as yet another public relations stunt aimed at repairing the company’s image and not a serious effort to reduce the death and disease caused by its products.

“If Philip Morris is truly committed to a smoke-free world, it should immediately take two steps: 1) Actively support the policies to reduce cigarette smoking that are endorsed by the public health community and an international public health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; and 2) set an example for the tobacco industry by stopping all marketing of cigarettes.”

ASH (Action on Smoking for Health) said that research funded by the tobacco industry has not been reliable. “The tobacco industry has a terrible track record of funding research designed to support its efforts to block policies to cut smoking. Only recently, Mr Justice Green, who found against the tobacco manufacturers in the UK standard packs court case, concluded that the industry research evidence ‘fell significantly below internationally accepted best practice’. PMI may say this time will be different, but it will have to prove it. Tobacco industry claims can never be accepted at face value,” said its chief executive Deborah Arnott.

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