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In an official note to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Michael Møller, outgoing Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, called for a “more nuanced” relationship between the tobacco industry and the UN system. Møller argued a case for improved partnerships with the private sector, which he said “plays a key role in creating economic prosperity, as an essential mechanism for sustainable development.”

In the note, Møller also stated that: “businesses which are legitimate enough to pay taxes to governments should also be legitimate enough to participate in discussions concerning joint efforts to minimise health risks and address other problems of a common nature. This is particularly true for those that have highly advanced research efforts to minimise the harmful effects of their own products.”

This alarming line of argument echoes the tobacco industry itself – in particular, the Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which claims that it is committed to “reducing harm” through the promotion of alternative tobacco products, whilst Philip Morris continues to sell cigarettes around the world and actively interferes in evidence-based public health policies.

In response to this, a Union backed letter has been sent to UN Secretary-General Guterres, urging him to reject Møller’s note in its entirety, on the grounds that it poses a direct threat to progress towards the sustainable development goals and directly conflicts with international law.

The letter was signed by Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco control at The Union on behalf of the STOP global tobacco industry watchdog, of which The Union is a partner – along with Francis Thompson, Framework Convention Alliance Executive Director; Laurent Huber, Action on Smoking and Health Executive Director; and Matthew L Myers, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President.

Read the full letter below:

Dear Secretary General Guterres,

RE: The role of the tobacco industry in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

We are writing to you regarding a note on the role of the tobacco industry in the United Nation’s (UN) 2030 Agenda you received from the outgoing Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Michael Møller.

Mr Møller’s call for a “more nuanced” relationship between the tobacco industry and the UN system represents a threat to progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals but also stands in direct conflict with international law, in particular Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which states that “Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.” It is alarming that an outgoing UN official of Mr Møller’s status would feel the need to suggest softening the stance of the global community toward an industry whose products claim eight million lives and cost between one and two percent of global GDP annually.

The consensus within the UN system to exclude the tobacco industry from policymaking was not created lightly. As the FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines note, “there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.” Tobacco companies have a long-standing history of interfering with the implementation of tobacco control policies through lobbying, legal action and intimidation. It is impossible to produce, market and sell tobacco products in a way that is compatible with public health or the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

Accordingly, tobacco companies have been excluded from the UN Global Compact, and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSCO) passed resolution E/2017/L.21, which calls upon all UN agencies to “implement their own policies on preventing tobacco industry interference.

We cannot help but wonder why Mr Møller has chosen to wait until the end of his tenure to raise such a controversial proposal that would be detrimental to global health but beneficial to the tobacco industry. In order to prevent any doubt about the UN’s commitment to global tobacco control, the WHO FCTC and the 2030 Agenda, we respectfully ask you to reject Mr Møller’s note in its entirety and instruct all staff with whom the note was shared to disregard its content.

We count on your continued support in this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

[Signed by]:

Francis Thompson, FCA Executive Director

Laurent Huber, ASH Executive Director

Matthew L. Myers, CTFK President

Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union, partner in STOP

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)

STOP 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 Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, The Union and Vital Strategies.

 

The Union supports a campaign launched by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) against the Philip Morris International (PMI) funded Foundation for a Smoke-free World (FSFW).

SEATCA’s campaign centres around the FSFW’S attempt to trademark the title “Smoke-Free Index” for its new tool, which is intended to evaluate the actions of 15 tobacco companies as they move from promoting conventional cigarettes to alternative “smoke-free” products.

SEATCA had already developed a tool by the exact same name three years ago, to assess the implementation of smoke-free policies in southeast Asian countries in line with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

The FSFW announced the plans to develop what it termed “the first ever Smoke-Free Index” in March 2019. Three months earlier, the foundation filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for ownership of the mark “[Smoke-Free Index]”; and filed similar applications in the EU, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia, China and Canada.

“Considering that SEATCA’s Smoke-Free Index was first published in 2016, FSFW’s use and trademarking of the term ‘Smoke-Free Index’ is misleading, potentially confusing, and tantamount to wrongful appropriation of SEATCA’s intellectual property,” said Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

Dr Dorotheo has also highlighted a 2014 PMI Corporate Affairs presentation made public by a Reuters investigative report in 2017, which said: “We’re still building ASEAN-wide counterweights to SEATCA, the major ATO [anti-tobacco organization] in Asia.” This evidence suggests that PMI has been actively monitoring the activities of SEATCA, and implies that its move to trademark the title “Smoke-Free Index” is not a coincidence but a deliberate attempt to undermine SEATCA’s tobacco control efforts in the region.

“The FSFW-funded ‘smoke-free index’ is yet another obvious marketing ploy intended to undermine tobacco control policy and promote the business interests of PMI,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union.

“PMI claims a commitment to reducing harm, but at the same time is continuing to promote the sale of cigarettes around the world, whilst actively interfering in public health policies which are proven to reduce tobacco use.”

The FSFW has been reaching out to research organisations, NGOs and academics in search of partners to legitimise its attempts to promote smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated-tobacco products like IQOS, which PMI aggressively markets in low- and middle-income countries.

The public health community remains sceptical of the FSFW’s agenda, however, and The Union has joined high profile organisations like WHO and hundreds of others to publicly reject any form of collaboration with foundation.

In the past month, two regional meetings organised by the FSFW to inform the development of its “Smoke-Free Index” tool, scheduled to be held in Bangkok and Istanbul, have been cancelled due to a lack of confirmed attendees, following urgent calls by the public health community to boycott such events.

Dr Gan Quan said: “The public health community has been strong and vocal in its refusal to partner with the FSFW, and it is encouraging to see that this is working. It is important that we continue to stand against big tobacco, and support campaigns like SEATCA’s which expose the industry’s manipulative and deceitful tactics.”

 

Researchers from STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog of which The Union is a partner, have published an analysis of a 2018 tax return of the Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), shedding light on the organisation’s funding activities.

The FSFW was set up in September 2017 as a scientific organisation aiming to “accelerate an end to smoking”, with a pledged amount of US$80 million over twelve years from Philip Morris International (PMI). Yet the analysis of the tax return, published in The Lancet on 6 June 2019, shows that the FSFW spent just US$6.46 million on ‘grants and contributions’ in 2018, compared with US$7.6 million spent on ’communications’ in the same year, the majority of which was paid to public relations companies.

The tax return also demonstrates that a further US$7.03 million was spent on staffing, leaving US$47.45 million unspent. With only a further $19.2 million of grant funding identified as approved for future payment, STOP researchers concluded that the FSFW appears to be struggling to fund scientific research using the money it has received from the tobacco industry.

Despite the millions spent on public relations, academic analysis shows that media coverage of the organisation has been largely negative. In the FSFW’s first six months of existence, only twenty percent of news articles framed it in a positive light. Press over that time primarily framed the FSFW’s mission and vision with “doubt, scepticism, and disapproval.”

The FSFW is still funded solely by PMI a year after its inception, although the organisation claimed that it would seek funding from other sources. Two high profile funders, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have publicly rejected the FSFW, and it seems that other funders are following suit. In the analysis published in The Lancet, STOP researchers reinforce the need to follow the so far successful calls made by the World Health Organization and the public health community to reject collaboration with the FSFW.

STOP has released a brief which summarises evidence to support the growing consensus that the FSFW is essentially working as a front group for PMI; serving as a “key public relations function” for the tobacco giant, rather than an independent scientific organisation working towards tobacco control.

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)

STOP 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 Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control and Vital Strategies.

 

The Government of Chad has adopted a draft decree to prevent tobacco industry interference in policy-making, in line with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The Union provided technical assistance to the Chadian government to draft this important piece of legislation, which will help to protect the people of Chad and its economy from the damage caused by tobacco.

Each year, more than 3,400 Chadian citizens are killed by tobacco-related diseases, and more than 5,000 children and 489,000 adults continue to use tobacco, according to 2016 data from the Tobacco Atlas . In Chad, tobacco use costs the government millions of US dollars in healthcare and lost productivity from tobacco-related diseases. An individual smoker in Chad who smokes 10 cigarettes per day from the leading brands will spend an average of 27% of their total income on tobacco products each year.

“Chad has made good progress in recent years on tobacco control laws, with the introduction of smokefree legislation, graphic health warnings and a ban on all tobacco advertising,” said Daouda Adam, Union Technical Adviser in the region. “However the introduction of Article 5.3 was vitally needed, because the tobacco industry is actively targeting African countries like Chad that offer untapped and youthful markets, relatively weak tobacco control laws and prime land for growing tobacco.”

The Union has supported tobacco control projects and activities in Chad since 2008, including providing capacity building support to key policy-makers and government staff, under the Bloomberg Initiative Grants Programme.

“I'm very pleased with this achievement because it will secure the progress already made by Chad on tobacco control,” said Dr Nenodji Mbairo, Union grantee and Coordinator of the national tobacco control programme at the Ministry of Public Health. “Article 5.3 was not included in the national tobacco control law adopted in 2010 – but now we have a tool, a weapon of protection for the law.”

 

The Union is supporting efforts to declare Hyderabad a smokefree city in the lead up to the 50th Union World Conference on Lung Health, taking place in Hyderabad from 30 October – 2 November 2019.

“Smokefree Hyderabad” will ensure that smokefree laws are implemented in all public places in the city to protect people from secondhand smoke exposure, which causes life-threatening diseases and is responsible for over a million deaths each year globally. The initiative will emphasise the mandatory display of “no smoking” signs, enforcement of smokefree laws in all public and work places and the prohibition of tobacco sales in and around educational premises.

In the week leading up to World No Tobacco Day (31 May 2019), The Union delivered two capacity building workshops for the Hyderabad City Police Department, training more than 350 senior- and mid-level police officers and enforcement officials on smokefree laws. The City Police Commissioner, Mr Anjani Kumar, inaugurated the workshops and said: “the general health of the public should be improved. For any family to prosper, being healthy is necessary.”

Union Technical Advisor, Mr Govind Kumar Tripathi, facilitated the training which focused on the ‘Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003’, with an emphasis on Section 4, which relates to reducing the public’s exposure to secondhand smoke by making public places smokefree.

“This training is important to strengthen the capacity of police officers to enforce smokefree laws”, said Dr Rana J Singh, Deputy Regional Director for South East Asia at The Union. “However, multi-stakeholder engagement in this initiative with a focus on all government departments, media and civil society will also be crucial for achieving the goal of a smokefree Hyderabad.”

To garner public support and raise awareness of this initiative, The Union organised a sports event called “Run for smokefree Hyderabad” on the eve of World No Tobacco Day, in partnership with the Department of Health, Medical and Family Welfare, Government of Telangana, and the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. Around 500 people showed their support for Smokefree Hyderabad by taking part in the two kilometre run, including health professionals, members of medical and dental associations, media personnel, civil society representatives, social activists, students and members of the general public.

In his speech at the event, Mr E Rajendra, Minister of Health, Medical and Family Welfare, Government of Telangana, acknowledged the relevance and importance of this year’s World No Tobacco Day theme: Tobacco and Lung health. He said that, on behalf of Hyderabad and the state of Telangana, he would be proud to welcome Union World Conference delegates from around the world to a smokefree Hyderabad in October.

 

Today, The Union is supporting World No Tobacco Day, which this year highlights tobacco’s deadly toll on lung health. The Union calls for renewed efforts to strengthen tobacco control in all countries and integrate tobacco control into health promotion and disease control programmes – measures that are critically needed to prevent the millions of deaths caused by tobacco-related lung diseases each year.

In addition to being a leading cause of debilitating non-communicable diseases such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), smoking is also a major risk factor for tuberculosis (TB): the deadliest infectious disease in the world. In 2017, 1.6 million people lost their lives because of TB, and 10 million people fell ill with the disease. It is estimated that more than 20% of global TB incidence can be attributed to tobacco. A robust study conducted in 2014 demonstrated that regular smoking doubles the risk that people who have been successfully treated for TB will develop TB again. Smokers with TB are also more likely to die from the disease. Offering smoking cessation advice and support to TB patients is one strategy The Union is using which is simple to adopt and proven to save lives.

The most effective way to protect people’s lung health from the harms of tobacco is through full implementation of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and by adopting the six evidence-based MPOWER measures. The Union has helped more than 50 countries to implement MPOWER-based policies – such as smoke-free laws, graphic health warnings on packaging and tobacco advertising bans – impacting billions of people globally. Together with our partners around the world, The Union has been making huge progress – but with over eight million people still dying every year from tobacco-related diseases, it is not enough.

“We cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence of tobacco’s impact on lung health,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. “We should also remain vigilant of efforts from the tobacco industry to undermine tobacco control policies, notably through its recent tactics in hijacking the narrative of ‘harm reduction’ through new products such as IQOS.”

Tobacco industry interference in policy-making remains a lethal threat to lung health. The rise of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products like IQOS, are being promoted by big tobacco as safer alternatives to smoking – but we do not know what the long-term impact of these products may be on lung health. The liquid used in e-cigarettes, for example, contains many toxins which can cause lung diseases such as COPD, lung cancer and asthma, not to mention cardiovascular diseases.

The evidence available indicates that these new tobacco products are not risk-free, yet they are being aggressively marketed as such in low- and middle-income countries, where tobacco control policies are not yet strong enough or well enough implemented to protect non-smokers and young people.

Dr Gan Quan said: “the recent campaign launched by Phillip Morris International (PMI) to rebrand WNTD as World No Smoking Day not only reveals its indifference to the millions of people suffering from diseases caused by smokeless tobacco products, but also serves as a reminder for us that this is simply another tactic by PMI to promote its deadly products.”

Presently, the world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of a one-third reduction by 2030 in premature deaths caused by non-communicable diseases – and we are still a long way from ending the TB epidemic. To achieve these milestones, we must be ever more vigilant against the devious tactics of the tobacco industry, and tobacco control must be a priority for governments and communities worldwide.

 

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