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Initial analysis of the Foundation for Smoke-Free World (FSFW)’s 2019 tax return by STOP, the global tobacco industry watchdog of which The Union is a partner, provides further evidence that it operates primarily as a publicity function of tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI).

FSFW claims to be an “independent, non-profit organisation committed to reducing deaths and diseases caused by smoking.” The 2019 tax return revealed that, more than two years after saying it wanted to secure other funders, the world’s biggest tobacco industry front group remains solely funded by PMI.

PMI is one of the world’s largest transnational tobacco companies. In 2019 it shipped over 700 billion cigarettes worldwide, with a net revenue of US$ 78 billion. Despite the Foundation claiming it is a scientific organisation, almost a third (31 percent, US$ 24.52 million) of its US$ 80 million budget in 2019 was spent on salaries, public relations, legal and other fees. Only about half (US$ 41.09 million) went on grants, according to the initial analysis of the tax return by the Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) at the University of Bath, a partner in STOP.

TCRG has found that many grants fund what looks more like public relations and advocacy than scientific research. These include funding VIDA news to “increase public awareness of the drivers of smoking harm and the availability of alternatives;” the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) to “promote tobacco harm reduction on the global stage” and the Conrad Foundation to hold children’s science competitions.

Despite spending millions of dollars on Ogilvy and Ruder Finn, two marketing companies with historical links to the tobacco industry, the Foundation appears to be struggling to achieve legitimacy or to build credible links with academic institutions. Fewer than one in six (seven out of 45) of the Foundation’s grant recipients are based at an academic institution.

The fact it spent 11 times more on recruitment consultants in 2019 than in 2018 (US$ 852,017 versus US$ 74,216), adds to findings that it is struggling to recruit and retain key personnel. Of the key staff listed in 2019, it has since lost its chief operating officer, two board members, and two of its highest-paid employees (Vice President of Global Operations and Vice President of Marketing and Communications). This makes a total loss of ten key staff members since the Foundation was launched.

“We cannot leave it to Big Tobacco to find solutions to the epidemic they themselves have created,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union.

“This analysis provides further evidence that the Foundation’s primary purpose is to improve PMI’s public image and credibility, rather than to actually reduce smoking. We must continue to hold Big Tobacco to account, and not allow them to distract us from implementing tobacco control policies that we know are effective.”

STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products) is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose tobacco industry strategies and tactics to undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and comprised of a partnership between the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control and Vital Strategies.

The full analysis of the tax return is available to download from the STOP website.

 

Researchers from STOP, the global tobacco industry watchdog of which The Union is a partner, have published new findings on how tobacco companies are deceiving consumers and governments by exploiting the concept of sustainability. The tactic – described by the researchers as ‘greenwashing’ – is used by controversial industries around the world to represent their environmentally destructive products and business practices as sustainable.

Tobacco companies have been using greenwashing to exploit public concern for sustainability and hide destructive practices – such as deforestation, heavy chemical use in tobacco crops and the large amount of waste produced during manufacturing – since the early 2000s.

The greenwashing tactics of tobacco companies revealed by STOP researchers include:

Use of ‘corporate social responsibility’ and exploiting the lack of international environmental regulations in lower- and middle-income countries

When developing economies cannot fully fund their own reforestation or environmental disaster responses, tobacco companies step in and offer money. When governments accept these donations, the industry can claim credit and build influence.

Lack of international environmental standards lets powerful tobacco companies pit lower- and middle-income countries against one another. When a country proposes environmental legislation, tobacco companies are able to shut down their operations and re-open in other countries where rules are more relaxed, allowing them to continue their unsustainable practices.

Use of recognition from sustainability groups to obtain legitimacy

Tobacco companies represent themselves as trustworthy and socially responsible to gain a seat at the policymaking table where they can advocate for preferential policies. Even though industry interference in tobacco control and health policy is prohibited according to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, tobacco companies seek loopholes that allow them to work with governments and policymakers.

Each of the four major transnational tobacco companies (British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands) tout their recognition from sustainability groups like the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). Yet, when the same group gives them a poor assessment, these companies withdraw their participation. For example, when BAT, JTI and Imperial all received poor ratings on disclosure and impact in 2017, all three opted out of CDP Forestry reporting.

Find out more about tobacco industry greenwashing on Tobacco Tactics— a newly revamped online resource that exposes and explains tobacco industry behaviour.

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)

STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products) is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose tobacco industry strategies and tactics to undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and comprised of a partnership between the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control and Vital Strategies.

 

To prevent the unnecessary loss of life during the COVID-19 crisis, 42 Indonesian organisations – representing civil society, academic and professional organisations – have signed a letter to the President of Indonesia and the national government calling for strong action to address the relationship between tobacco and the virus.

Echoing The Union’s official statement on smoking and COVID-19, the letter highlighted the emerging evidence that smokers are more likely to be infected by COVID-19, and are more likely to experience a more severe or deadly form of the virus – as are people who have pre-existing non-communicable diseases, for which tobacco use is a leading risk factor.

There is also evidence that the use of electronic cigarettes, waterpipes and chewing tobacco products increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The letter additionally highlights concern from the public health community that the tobacco industry is spreading misinformation and denying the link between smoking and COVID-19, and is capitalising on the crisis to improve its public image by providing aid to governments under the guise of ‘corporate social responsibility’ activities.

“This call to action is welcomed and timely,” said Dr Tara Singh Bam, Deputy Regional Director for Asia Pacific at The Union. “The deadly partnership between tobacco and COVID-19 is a particular concern for Indonesia, as 67 million Indonesians are active smokers. It’s time to end tobacco.”

The letter includes a list of 10 recommendations to the national government of Indonesia, including:

- Undertake campaigns to increase the awareness of the higher risk of COVID-19 for smokers

- Ensure that the smoking status of people diagnosed with COVID-19 is recorded

- Activate a national smoking cessation service to help people quit smoking

- Enforce a ban on all types of tobacco advertising and prohibit tobacco industry donations and partnership with the government

- Strengthen the implementation and enforcement of smokefree legislation and immediately ratify the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

- Ensure that there is an uninterrupted supply of medicines and services to people with chronic diseases and tuberculosis.

Read the full letter.

 

The Union is deeply concerned about COVID-19’s impact on the world’s 1.3 billion smokers and the low- and middle-income countries whose health systems are plagued by tobacco-related disease.

Smoking is one of the leading causes of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and tobacco usage is particularly dangerous right now. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer, among other NCDs, are more likely to experience serious illness or death from COVID-19.

The data are still emerging, but evidence already demonstrates the negative impact of tobacco use on lung health and its causal association with a large range of respiratory diseases. Smoking weakens the immune system and its responsiveness to infections, making smokers more vulnerable to infectious diseases. This includes COVID-19.

In February, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study of 1,099 COVID-19 patients. Smokers—both present and past—fared poorly: 16.9 percent of 173 patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms were current smokers, and 5.2 percent had previously smoked. Smokers comprised more than 25 percent of the patient group that needed mechanical ventilation, admission to an intensive care unit, or who died.

“This is the absolute best time to quit smoking,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union. “Countries have a moral imperative to advise their citizens of this urgent fact—and facilitate massive cessation efforts.”

The Union urges countries to prioritise and implement proven, evidence-based policies from the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which has 181 parties.

The Union is also deeply concerned that the tobacco industry is spreading misinformation—through blog posts and social media—and denying the link between smoking and COVID-19. The industry, notes Dr Gan Quan, is capitalising on the crisis to improve its public relations by offering donations and partnership to governments. At the same time, tobacco companies continue to aggressively market their products which— in addition to causing eight million deaths each year— are exacerbating the COVID-19 crisis.

“With mounting evidence that smokers are at higher risk of severe illness from this disease, the best thing the tobacco industry can do to fight COVID-19 is to immediately stop producing, marketing and selling tobacco," said Dr Gan Quan.

 

The Smoke Free Karachi initiative has launched in Pakistan as part of The Union’s Global Implementation Programme – a pilot programme funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies to support cities in Pakistan, Indonesia, China and India to effectively implement their tobacco control laws.

Smoke Free Karachi was launched on 9 March 2020 at an event held at the Office of the Commissioner of the Karachi Division, Pakistan, in collaboration with ‘Tobacco – Smoke Free Cities’, an initiative of the Tobacco Control Cell at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC). ‘Tobacco – Smoke Free Cities’ is a Union funded grant under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use (BI) Grants Program, through which The Union is currently supporting smokefree projects in five districts of Punjab and in Islamabad.

In the new Smoke Free Karachi initiative, The Union has committed to support two districts of Karachi, and the Commissioner of the Karachi Division, Mr Iftikhar Shalwani, has pledged to implement the programme in the remaining four districts of the city. The Union applauds the commitment shown by the Commissioner and the Karachi administration to ensuring that the city’s citizens are protected from the harms of second-hand smoke.

The launch event was chaired by the Commissioner and was attended by all Deputy Commissioners, Senior Police Officers, the Karachi Municipal Corporation, District Municipal Corporations, as well as representatives from other government departments. All senior government officials of Karachi assured the full cooperation of their offices to support the implementation of Smoke Free Karachi.

At the launch event, the Office of the Commissioner of the Karachi Division was declared a smokefree zone, and the ‘Smoke Free Pakistan’ mobile application was launched, which will allow mobile phone users anywhere in the country to report any violation of tobacco control laws by sending a notification to the respective district administration.

“Patience and determination, supported by the resources and technical support afforded by our dependable partner The Union, has brought in sight an otherwise uphill task of developing an effective model for implementing tobacco control laws in all six districts of Karachi,” said Dr Minhaj-us-Siraj, Deputy Director General of Health, Pakistan.

“I am proud to see the commitment of the Commissioner of the Karachi Division and his team who are leading this initiative, and joining hands to achieve the ultimate goal of protecting future generations from preventable diseases like cancer caused by tobacco and second-hand smoke.”

In 2002, the Government of Pakistan passed the ‘Prohibition of Smoking in Enclosed Places and Protection of Non-smokers Health Ordinance’, which bans smoking inside public places, and requires no-smoking signage be displayed.

However, in the November 2019 compliance survey undertaken by the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, a partner in the Global Implementation Programme, overall compliance across public places in the East and South districts of Karachi was only 57 percent. Smoke Free Karachi aims to increase this to over 85 percent compliance.

Karachi is the economic hub of Pakistan and one of the biggest cities in the world, with more than 16 million residents. Expanding support for the implementation of smokefree laws through Smoke Free Karachi under the Global Implementation Programme will protect millions of people from harmful second-hand smoke.

The Global Implementation Programme also launched in its first two cities, Yogyakarta and Depok City, Indonesia, last year.

 

The world is coming to terms with the reality of a pandemic of respiratory illness due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Due, in part, to aggressive disease control measures in China, the early spread of the virus outside China was slow but it is now clear that there is sustained community transmission established in many countries. The entire world is in for a rough ride in the next few months with serious health, social and economic consequences for individuals, nations and the world.

As we steel ourselves as a global community to take on, and overcome, this new and significant challenge, we must look for areas of public health synergy wherever possible, including keeping the following facts about world lung health in mind: that more people die of tuberculosis (TB) every day than have died from COVID-19 to date; that every day on average about 1000 people die from influenza and 2000 children under the age of five years die from pneumonia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for the international health-sector response to COVID-19 and, along with national public health agencies, is providing valuable technical advice. The Union, the world’s oldest global non-government organisation devoted to public health, strives to end suffering due to TB and lung disease by advancing better prevention and care. We are committed to achieving this by the generation, dissemination and implementation of knowledge into policy and practice. We aim to ensure that no-one is left behind and that resources and opportunities are fairly shared. With this mission in mind, we make the following calls and commitments:

1. The burden of this crisis must be borne fairly by the global community. Those who have little, have least capacity to bear additional costs. We must ensure that access to tests, medications and vaccines, when they are available, is equitable and not limited by capacity to pay. We need to ensure that those who are most vulnerable, both individuals and nations, are protected from severe economic consequences.

2. Control of transmission of the virus will require public health actions including isolation of infected, and potentially infected, individuals, social distancing and some changes in personal behaviour. It is likely that this will require some curtailment of individual liberties. It is important that these actions are implemented by authorities in a manner that is appropriate to the local epidemiological situation and is proportionate. Excessive and unnecessary restrictions should be avoided. At all times, authorities should seek to maximise both respect for the rights and needs of individuals and the protection of public health.

3. We have learned from our experience with TB of the effects of stigma on people with or at risk of disease and the importance of the language we use when describing the illness. We have seen the similar use of stigmatising language by the media and others when discussing people who have COVID-19. It is important that we adhere to the language guidance issued by WHO, which mirrors many of the lessons we have learned in TB to minimise stigma experienced by people affected by COVID-19.

4. Both transparency and truth are important values at these challenging times. It is important that authorities are open about the impact of the epidemic and the actions required to control it.

5. There are many unanswered questions about how best to deal with this novel problem. It is important that rigorous scientific methods are applied, with adequate resourcing, to ensure that the best tools, policies and procedures for mitigating the problems caused by COVID-19 are rapidly identified, validated, implemented and scaled up. This involves basic and laboratory science, epidemiological, operational and clinical research methods. The knowledge gained in these endeavours should be public and openly disseminated.

6. It is likely that COVID-19 has arisen from an as-yet-unidentified animal source, as have other recent outbreaks such as SARS, MERS and Ebola. A One Health approach to disease control should be embraced, as it recognises the importance of the intersection of humans, other animals and the environment.

7. The Union undertakes to use its resources, including its membership network, its conferences, webinars and publications, its communications team and its technical team to support the global response to the challenge of COVID-19.

José Luis Castro, Executive Director

Dr Keren Middelkoop, Chair, Coordinating Committee for Scientific Activities

Prof Guy B Marks, President

On behalf of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union)

 

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