Reuters Expose: Philip Morris’ secret operations to undermine FCTC

14 July 2017:

Two explosive investigative reports, one conducted by Reuters and another by The Guardian, have exposed how transnational tobacco companies, Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco, are running secretive campaigns to block or undermine the implementation of  the WHO FCTC implementation and our governments’ negotiations at the biannual Conference of the Parties (COP).

Reuters’ investigations found Philip Morris describing the FCTC as a “regulatory runaway train” driven by “anti-tobacco extremists”. See here. This document and a selection of other PMI’s secret papers, referred to as The Philip Morris Files, have been made publically accessible by Reuters.

The Reuters’ investigations reveal PMI’s offensive efforts across 14 countries, including Vietnam, on how it works to subvert the FCTC implantation on multiple levels. The COP was targeted because this is where delegates gather to decide on measures to implement the FCTC more effectively. PMI also lobbies at the country level, “where the makeup of FCTC delegations is determined and treaty decisions are turned into legislation.”

According to Reuters, in 2014 at COP6 in Moscow, PMI’s Director of Regulatory Affairs from Lausanne ran the company’s counter measures. Philip Morris had hosted a coordination room that could hold 42 persons. It had full-time 2 managers and 2 corporate affairs executives who were responsible for distributing documents and providing support. For example Philip Morris had helped arrange ITGA (International Tobacco Growers Association)’s press conference. The ITGA is a tobacco industry funded front group that conducts routine attacks on the FCTC, the WHO, the COP and tobacco control measures.

In Asia, Reuters reveal PMI’s efforts targeted Vietnam. At COP6, civil society groups who were present observed how Vietnam’s interventions frequently mirrored Philip Morris’ positions on tobacco-control regulations.

Reuters reports how on the day COP6 concluded, the PMI corporate affairs executive for Vietnam reported that he had a “debrief lunch” with the Vietnamese delegation and had a good outcome to report: The delegation was in favor of “moderate and reasonable measures” to be implemented over a “practical timeline,” he had written.

Reuters reveals in November 2016, while other major tobacco companies sent their executives to the venue of COP7 in New Delhi, PMI’s executives stayed at a hotel located about an hour’s drive away conducting its interfering activities. The report reveals how PMI used a white van to ferry the Vietnamese delegates to the hotel its executives were staying in.

Besides undermining the COP sessions, PMI has also targeted tobacco control NGOs including SEATCA. On SEATCA, PMI says, “We’re still building ASEAN-wide counterweights to SEATCA, the major ATO in Asia”.  [ATO stands for anti-tobacco organisations]

SEATCA’s critique of the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC)’s report on illicit tobacco trade has ruffled PMI which funded the study. According to PMI, the ATOs were conducting “Attacks on our fiscal arguments and allies”. Last year, ITIC’s consultant challenged SEATCA and our critique of the ITIC’s flawed report.

The investigative expose clearly shows, despite recent rhetoric about less harmful products and even going smoke-free, the transnational tobacco companies have not changed. They will continue to interfere with government efforts, defeat stringent tobacco control legislation, and attack civil society groups that protect public health.

The best antidote for tobacco industry tactics such as these revealed in the investigations, is to implement FCTC Article 5.3 that protects governments and public health policies from industry interference.