PMI sets up new foundation to whitewash and distract

22 September 2017:

WHO has predicted that 1 billion lives will be lost because of tobacco use in the 21st Century. However PMI wants the world to refocus to $1 billion instead of 1 billion deaths its cigarettes are linked with.

On 13 September 2017, Philip Morris International (PMI) announced its new Foundation for a Smoke-free World committing US$1 billion for the next 12 years. PMI has appointed Derek Yach, a South African well known among tobacco control circles, to head it up.

The new Foundation will focus on funding research to support policy and collaborative initiatives on harm reduction. In other words, provide a platform to legitimise and accelerate its sales of IQOS, its heat-not-burn tobacco product. In essence, this Foundation is really an IQOS foundation.

Do not be distracted, PMI is not stopping its sales of cigarettes. In fact PMI is increasing cigarette sales in the ASEAN countries and continues to fight any legislation that results in reduced tobacco use.

PMI’s strategically chose Yach to be the President of the Foundation because of his previous position with WHO – a clever move to exploit his links with the international public health community. Yach held four other jobs these past 10 years after leaving WHO but PMI is hooking his tenure with WHO to astroturf the Foundation.

A tobacco industry article describing the Foundation credits Yach as the “primary architect of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”. However the Convention Secretariat for the WHO FCTC (CSF) has issued a statement denouncing this and provides its positions on the Foundation – that it is an industry funded activity in breach of the WHO FCTC.

According to the CSF, “[T]he treaty had no single architect. It resulted from the work of hundreds of committed government representatives, individuals and organizations, and that is its greatest strength – teamwork.”

According to the CSF, “any collaboration with this Foundation, due to its current funding arrangements that comes from a tobacco multinational, would constitute a clear breach of Article 5.3 of the Convention concerning tobacco industry interference.”

The CSF clarifies that “Parties to the Convention have agreed, through the Guidelines to Article 5.3 that activities described as “socially responsible” by the tobacco industry, constitute a marketing and public-relations strategy that falls within the Convention’s definition of advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Parties should not endorse, support, form partnerships with or participate in tobacco industry activities described as socially responsible. Tobacco industry is clearly looking for a seat at the table.”

PMI is following its strategies exposed in the recent investigative report by Reuters, where in 2014 PMI identified as “good news” the divisions among the public health community on e-cigarettes and reduced risk products “and to find “find allies that cannot be ignored”. See here. Slide 20 and 78.

Malone et al point out PMI has not announced it is going to stop promoting cigarettes to kids in Africa and Asia. “In fact, it’s developing “stronger” products for some markets, and continuing to aggressively promote Marlboro cigarettes to the young through campaigns like “Be Marlboro”. See “A Frank Statement for the 21st Century” here.

Malone et al remind us that “Cigarettes remain PMI’s biggest money maker, dwarfing anything else. Only the profoundly naïve will believe that PMI is not solely promoting its self-interest in supporting this new “foundation”.

US$1 billion is a lot of money to low income countries, but PMI has spent many more billions just advertising its cigarettes. Then again, PMI’s cigarette business deals in billions – it produced 850 billion cigarettes in 2015 and the company has a net revenue of about $74 billion.