PMI-funded Foundation fails to influence WHO – Proactive action from Vietnam & Thailand

13 February 2019:

On 24 January 2019, Philip Morris International (PMI)-funded organization, Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) made an attempt to engage with the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board by sending them an open letter requesting them to work with the Foundation “to accelerate work to end adult smoking”. The FSFW, which will receive USD 960 million over 12 years from PMI, published its open letter in the press in Europe.

According to Tobacco Tactics, internal documents of PMI reveal the establishment of FSFW is consistent with the company’s corporate strategy – a confluence of interest. 

The international public health and tobacco control community responded swiftly to this sinister attempt through its own global open letter  signed by about 280 organizations and individuals, sent to the Director General and Executive Board of the WHO requesting them to reject the foundation’s attempts at influencing the WHO through any partnership. The civil society letter, initiated by a global industry watchdog group STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies), called on the EB to reinforce WHO’s 2017 notice to governments to reject any affiliation with the FSFW because of the “number of clear conflicts of interest involved with a tobacco company funding a purported health foundation, particularly if it promotes sale of tobacco and other products found in that company’s brand portfolio.”

There was strong support to the civil society letter from the ASEAN region. At least 42 organizations and individuals from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam signed-on to this letter of support. The letter pointed out how engaging with the FSFW would undermine WHO FCTC Article 5.3 which seeks to protect public health policies from the vested interests of the tobacco industry and on which much of the success of the treaty rests. The World Heart Federation read out a statement on behalf of civil society.

Singapore noted that the tobacco industry is an exception to collaboration and called upon WHO to not engage with any organisation which is whole or partly supported by the tobacco industry. Singapore called upon WHO to reaffirm its position in the strongest terms possible.

The WHO responded swiftly its commitment of non-engagement with the tobacco industry, stating: “WHO will NOT partner with Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World nor any other group funded by the tobacco industry. Governments and the public health community should follow this lead.”

The FSFW has targeted research institutes and academics by offering grant opportunities to conduct research. At least two governments in the ASEAN region have issued appropriate responses to FSFW based on the obligation under FCTC Article 5.3.

In November 2017, Vietnam became the first ASEAN country to announce its position of non-engagement with the FSFW. The Vietnamese Ministry of Health alerted all government ministries to the fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health, highlighting FCTC Article 5.3 and the WHO recommendation to not cooperate with FSFW.

This year, in February 2019, Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) sent a letter to the Ministry of Education to notify Thai universities and research institutes to not engagement with FSFW including receiving any form of sponsorships or supports from tobacco industry; either financial or technical support. Such sponsorship is prohibited under Section 35 of Tobacco Products Control Act 2017 (TPCA).  

In 2005, the Thai Government Public Relations Department on Principles and Measures to Reduce Tobacco Consumption ruled, “The television and radio programs shall not receive any form of financial supports delivered by [tobacco] business operator and related person. Publicity or advertisement includes the name of private and government agencies, symbols or acronyms that have implication to the sponsorship or support of [tobacco] business operator and related person.”  This prohibition applied to Thai Tobacco Monopoly (now known as Tobacco Authority of Thailand) and transnational tobacco companies but was limited to the broadcast media such as radio and television programs. This loophole has been fixed when the TPCA came into effect in 2017 comprehensively banning tobacco related CSR activities.

The proactive action from the governments of Thailand and Vietnam to reject any engagement and collaboration with the PMI-funded FSFW should serve as good practice to be emulated by other governments.

 

For further information:

  1. Factsheet on the FSFW:
    https://seatca.org/dmdocuments/Fact%20Sheet%20FSFW%20June.pdf
  2. Template letter for Ministry of Health:
    https://ggtc.world/dmdocuments/FSFW%20Template%20Letter%20Ministry%20of%20HEALTH%20Letterhead.pdf
  3. Vietnam Ministry of Health letter:
    https://seatca.org/dmdocuments/Vietnam%20MOH%20letter%20on%20non-cooperation%20with%20Smoke-Free%20World%20Foundation%20Unofficial%20translation.pdf
  4. Ministry of Health Poland’s letter to the academe:
    https://ggtc.world/dmdocuments/Unofficial%20translation%20Poland%20considers%20PM%20part%20of%20TI%20English.pdf