Category Archives: World Health Organization

Philip Morris International trying to bring back the Council for Tobacco Research

WHO Head-Quater in Geneva, Switzerland.
Copyright : WHO/Pierre Virot

Oh, this is too rich. Philip Morris International, the international wing of Altria, has proposed setting up something called “A Foundation for a Smokefree World.”

The World Health Organization has urged world governments not to get involved with the foundation, pointing out the pretty glaring conflict of interest.

Here’s the kicker, Philip Morris Int’l plans to fund its foundation with $80 million over 12 years. Wow, that’s big of them. A multibillion corporation that has been fighting anti-tobacco intiatives worldwide for 10 years that will rake in billions in profits setting aside $80 million over 12 years for good public relations.

Here is an excerpt from WHO’s statement. It’s awesome, it doesn’t pull any punches:

The UN General Assembly has recognized a “fundamental

conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health.” (1) WHO Member States have stated that “WHO does not engage with the tobacco industry or non-State actors that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry”, (2) the Organization will therefore not engage with this new Foundation.

Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) obliges Parties to act to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 state clearly that governments should limit interactions with the tobacco industry and avoid partnership. These Guidelines are also explicit that Governments should not accept financial or other contributions from the tobacco industry or those working to further its interests, such as this Foundation.

Strengthening implementation of the WHO FCTC for all tobacco products remains the most effective approach to tobacco control. Policies such as tobacco taxes, graphic warning labels, comprehensive bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and offering help to quit tobacco use have been proven to reduce demand for tobacco products. These policies focus not just on helping existing users to quit, but on preventing initiation.

(Here’s the kicker:)

If PMI were truly committed to a smoke-free world, the company would support these policies. Instead, PMI opposes them. PMI engages in large scale lobbying and prolonged and expensive litigation against evidence-based tobacco control policies such as those found in the WHO FCTC and WHO’s MPOWER tobacco control, which assists in implementation of the WHO FCTC. For example, just last year PMI lost a six year investment treaty arbitration with Uruguay, in which the company spent approximately US$ 24 million to oppose large graphic health warnings and a ban on misleading packaging in a country with fewer than four million inhabitants.

There are many unanswered questions about tobacco harm reduction (3), but the research needed to answer these questions should not be funded by tobacco companies. The tobacco industry and its front groups have misled the public about the risks associated with other tobacco products. This includes promoting so-called light and mild tobacco products as an alternative to quitting, while being fully aware that those products were not less harmful to health. Such misleading conduct continues today with companies, including PMI, marketing tobacco products in ways that misleadingly suggest that some tobacco products are less harmful than others.

This decades-long history means that research and advocacy funded by tobacco companies and their front groups cannot be accepted at face value. When it comes to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, there are a 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. WHO will not partner with the Foundation. Governments should not partner with the Foundation and the public health community should follow this lead.

I love WHO calling this Foundation a “front group” because that’s sure what it sounds like. Philip Morris International has fought and fought and fought tobacco regulations around the world, including plain packaging laws and limits on tobacco marketing. And now it wants to convince people its one of the good guys?

The president of the foundation responded, but I remain pretty unconvinced.

 From Reuters:
The foundation’s founder and president-designate, Derek Yach, a former senior official at the WHO, said more collaboration, not less, was needed to win the war on smoking.
“I am deeply disappointed, therefore, by WHO’s complete mischaracterisation of the nature, structure and intent of the Foundation in its recent statements – and especially by its admonition to others not to work together.”
I find this a pitifually empty statement Collaboration? Really? With the industry that has been fighting regulations tooth and nail? If this foundation was legit, why not find sources of funding other than the tobacco industry? Then, I might give it some benefit of the doubt (though to be honest, it would be really easy for the industry to fund the foundation through dummy organizations.)
What Derek Yach needs to be reminded of is that Big Tobacco did something very similar 60 years ago, it was called the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research. It was established as a PR move to try and convince the public that the industry was “concerned” about the “possible” health effects of smoking. Instead, the institute was used for decades to deflect, distract and obfuscate the facts about smoking. These organizations were disbanded by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, but it appears PMI is trying to start up something that sounds absolutely similar.

Tobacco use in India drops from 34 to 28 percent

Good news from India (and I’m hoping I have some readers from India who will be interested to read this.)

According to figures from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, the rate of adult tobacco use in India has dropped from 34.6 percent to 28.6 percent from 2009-10 to 2016-17.

That’s roughly a 17 percent drop in seven years. That translates into 81 bakh fewer tobacco users in India in seven years (8.1 million).

That includes smokeless tobacco, bidis, cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Perhaps one big reason, according to the Financial Express, an Indian website, is the average cost of smokeless tobacco, bidis and cigarettes has gone up since 2009.

From the Financial Express:

The expenditure on cigarette has tripled and that on bidi and smokeless tobacco has doubled since GATS-1, the report pointed out.

Also, the Financial Express explains what the Global Adult Tobacco Survey is:

The GATS is a global standard for systematically monitoring adult tobacco use and tracking key tobacco control indicators. It was a household survey of persons aged 15 and above and was conducted in all states and two Union Territories. The first round of GATS was conducted in 2009-10. The second round of GATS was conducted in 2016-2017 by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The survey was conducted under the stewardship of the Ministry of Health and technical assistance was provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This is really important news because Big Tobacco is relying heavily on increasing its presence in developing nations such as India and Indonesia (the smoking rate in Indonesia is insane). Smoking is dying out in the West because of better education about the dangers of tobacco, so Big Tobacco is pouring more of its resources during the past several years into India, Southeast Asia, Africa and South America, places that tend to have low cigarette taxes and lax rules on tobacco marketing. They would go after China, too, but the Chinese have been pretty aggressive about maintaining state control of its tobacco industry.



World Health Organization calls for adult ratings worldwide for allowing smoking in movies

Lois Lane smoking
Lois Lane smoking in Superman II. Philip Morris paid six figures to have Lois smoke in this PG-rated movie.

A follow-up toa  series of stories I’ve done in the past few weeks. The World Health Organization has now jumped on board, calling for adult movie ratings for films that depict tobacco use.

What prompted my latest series of stories on this was watching “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on a rented DVD and noticing there was virtually no smoking in the movie at all, even though it took place in 1963, which is literally during the height of the smoking era. Shortly afterward was a story about how data shows that depictions of smoking in movies, in particular PG and PG-13 movies, has dropped fairly dramatically since the MPAA in 2009 adopted guidelines discouraging (discouraging, not banning) smoking in movies marketed to teens and kids.

Yup, a real still from a Tom and Jerry cartoon, with real free advertising for Marlboros.

The new MPAA policy hasn’t been perfect or ideal, but for the most part it has been working. Studios have been voluntarily removing smoking from PG and PG-13 movies because they just aren’t interested in butting heads with the MPAA over it. In fact, Disney, which now owns the Marvel brand, has said no more smoking in any of its movies, including Marvel movies. That means Wolverine and Nick Fury and J.J. Jameson no longer get to chomp on cigars. Call it revisionist history, but hey, back in the day, James Bond used to actually spank women. Times change.

Anyway, this story about the data on smoking in movies claimed there were 10-29 depictions of smoking in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” I thought, “seriously? Really? I can’t remember a single one.” I had already sent the DVD back to Netflix, but my friend Nancy watched the movie for me and confirmed that there was no smoking in the movie. Not sure what “depictions of tobacco” means, according to Smokefree Movies.


I digress … a LOT. WHO has issued its own opinion that movies that depict tobacco use should be given an “adult” rating (R-rating in the U.S., but there’s myriad other terms for it in other countries.)

From a WHO press release:

“With ever tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, film remains one of the last channels exposing millions of adolescents to smoking imagery without restrictions,” says Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s Director for the Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases.

“Smoking in films can be a strong form of promotion for tobacco products,” adds Dr Bettcher. “The 180 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) are obliged by international law to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”

Dr Armando Peruga, programme manager of WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, says countries around the world have taken steps to limit tobacco imagery in films. “China has ordered that ‘excessive’ smoking scenes should not be shown in films. India has implemented new rules on tobacco imagery and brand display in domestic and imported films and TV programmes. But more can and must be done,” Dr Peruga adds.

I honestly believe this is an important issue because most tobacco advertising has been curtailed. No tobacco ads allowed on TV or radio and tobacco advertising in magazines has for 18 hours not been allowed to use cartoon characters such as Joe Camel. So, where is one of the biggest sources of kids continuing to get the idea that smoking is cool or hip — if not the biggest source? Hollywood, plain and simple. Hollywood has for nearly 100 years had a bizarre symbiotic relations with tobacco. In the 1930s and 1940s “cool” characters created by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall smoked; the tobacco industry actually started paying Hollywood to advertise its products beginning with Superman II in 1980, and yet even after this was exposed and banned by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, smoking depictions in PG and PG-13 movies actually went UP in the 2000s. Only by advocates making a huge stink about it, did the MPAA crack down on smoking in teen-marketed movies … a crackdown that wasn’t as severe as some people wanted, but has served its purpose and hasn’t infringed (In my opinion) on freedom of expression.

For the record, like F bombs, sex, and brain-splattering gore, I’m all for allowing as much smoking as a director wants in an R-rated movie. I’m all for freedom of expression. I just want it out of kid- and teen-marketed movies.


A look back at the World Health Organization’s groundbreaking tobacco control treaty


A very interesting article from Foreign Affairs on something I knew very little about, honestly — the World Health Organization’s groundbreaking Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, a treaty signed by most of the nations on Earth.

The FCTC was the first-ever WHO worldwide treaty. The agency had gone 50 years without using its treaty-making power and when it did, it chose to direct its power at the growth of tobacco products in international markets.

This is important because of greater awareness in the West, much higher tobacco taxes and more regulations banning smoking in workplaces, the smoking rate has dropped through most Western countries. However, the tobacco industry has adapted by turning its energies toward emerging markets in India, Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

The FCTC came on the heels on the release of the so-called “cigarette papers,” millions of millions of internal memos and studies from the tobacco industry dating back to the 1950s which became public knowledge through the discovery process in various lawsuits against Big Tobacco. The treaty provides assistance to smaller, developing countries to battle the worldwide Big Tobacco industry in putting together tobacco control programs. The treaty, which took three years to negotiate and was first ratified by 40 countries in 2005. It has since been ratified by 180 countries representing over 90 percent of the people on Earth.

The FCTC gives smaller, poorer countries information and resources from richer countries as those nations face uphill battles with Big Tobacco in trying to implement laws regarding tobacco packaging, marketing and use in public areas. These battles have been talked by a lot by John Oliver and others with his “Jeff the Diseased Lung” campaign. Big Tobacco, oftentimes with assistance from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as its hammer, has fought tiny countries such as Togo and Uruguay (and not so tiny Australia) whenever those countries try to pass laws controlling tobacco marketing and packaging.

Some of the basic things the FCTC helps smaller nations with include some of the same things that have worked in the West to reduce tobacco use:

•    Adopt tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption;
•    Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship;
•    Create smoke-free work and public spaces;
•    Put prominent health warnings on tobacco packages;
•    Combat illicit trade in tobacco products.

CVS quits U.S. Chamber of Commerce over CoC’s campaign against anti-smoking laws

U.S. chamber graphic

Great story, I loved this.

CVS Health, which gained notoriety  in recent months for removing all tobacco products from its chain of drug stores, has now left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because that organization is embroiled in a lobbying campaign worldwide against anti-smoking laws.

This is a growing issue in the battle against the spread of tobacco worldwide. Something that I didn’t pay that much attention to until John Oliver did an epic 18-minute rant about it on his show earlier this year.

Big Tobacco has in many ways given up fighting anti-smoking laws in the U.S. and much of the West. However, it is taking the fight to the Third World, where smaller countries don’t have the financial resources to hold their own against Big Tobacco. The tobacco is fighting laws against tobacco marketing and packaging in countries ranging from Australia to Uruguay. While Australia kicked Big Tobacco’s butt (pun intended) over the issue of plain packaging of tobacco products, little countries like Uruguay and Togo which are trying to restrict tobacco marketing in their countries simply can’t go up against the tobacco industry’s wealth.

CVS Health

Enter the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has become an increasingly right-wing entity over the past several years. The Chamber and its president Thomas Donohue are also fighting these small countries on behalf of Big Tobacco. Here is a list of some of the letters they have written supporting the tobacco industry to countries such as Ireland, Uruguay and New Zealand.

From a New York Times article:

We were surprised to read recent press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position on tobacco products outside the United States,” David R. Palombi, a senior vice president at the company, said in a statement. “CVS Health’s purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose.”

In its defence, the Chamber responded:

“It’s unfortunate that a concerted misinformation campaign about the U.S. Chamber’s position on smoking has resulted in a company leaving our organization.

“To be clear, the chamber does not support smoking and wants people to quit. At the same time, we support protecting the intellectual property and trademarks of all legal products in all industries and oppose singling out certain industries for discriminatory treatment.”

However, if the Chamber is just trying to protect trademarks of tobacco companies, then why is it fighting smoking bans? That’s got nothing to do with trademarks.

According to the New York Times:

The chamber has not said why it has opposed public health steps like restricting smoking in public places, which it called an “extreme” measure when it was proposed in Moldova.

CVS is not the only entity taking the Chamber to task. Others include Sens. Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren, billionaire Richard Branson and the World Health Organization.

From the Times:

Last week, seven Senate Democrats, including Richard Blumenthal, Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren, called the chamber’s tobacco lobbying “craven and unconscionable,” adding that “member companies should be concerned that their good name is sullied in efforts to strike down public health protections worldwide.”

Richard Branson, the billionaire British entrepreneur, said on Twitter that the chamber was on “the wrong side of history.” And on Tuesday, the head of the W.H.O. weighed in, assailing the chamber over its lobbying practices.

“By lobbying against well-established, widely accepted and evidence-based tobacco control public health policies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce undermines its own credibility on other issues,” Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the W.H.O., said in a statement on Tuesday. “So long as tobacco companies continue to be influential members of the chamber, legitimate businesses will be tarred with the same brush.”

Good on you, CVS, for highlighting what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is doing and putting the spotlight on its sleazy lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry.

WHO: Regulate e-cigs, control marketing to teens

I missed this a couple of weeks ago. The World Health Organization came out with a very strongly worded statement ripping e-cigs, over both their marketing and lack of regulations.

WHO, a United Nations agency, joins the American Heart Association in expressing strong concerns about the exponential growth of mostly unregulated e-cigs. WHO specifically talks about its concerns that the tobacco industry, seeing cigarettes in decline and a booming new industry in e-cigs, is getting aggressively involved in the e-cig business. (Blu E-Cigarettes, which is the No. 1 e-cig company, was purchased last year by Lorillard, which in turn is being purchased by RJ Reynolds.

In its report, released late last month, WHO specifically calls for:

* Stopping the marketing to teens

* Banning them in public places

I’m 100 percent for the FDA to control the marketing of e-cigs to teenagers, as I see this as by far the biggest problem with e-cigs. More and more kids instead of becoming addicted to nicotine through cigarettes, are becoming just as addicted to nicotine through e-cigs. And the industry has been incredibly blatant in marketing to kids. In my opinion, the FDA has this power over tobacco products because tobacco products contain a controlled substance — nicotine — and thus the agency has the same power over e-cig marketing. However, in its draft regulations on e-cigs released several months ago, the FDA completely punted on the marketing issue and instead focused on banning sales to teenagers, which to me is just a start.

I’m not so worked up about banning them in public places, at least not yet, because the effects of the e-cigs’ steam doesn’t appear to be nearly as bad as cigarette smoke (studies are mixed on this and I’m trying to keep an open mind on it.)

WHO doesn’t have any regulatory authority so its report is simply a recommendation to world governments.

Not everyone is on board with the WHO recommendations as a number of public health officials signed a letter asking WHO not to overreact and over-regulate e-cigs because of their potential health benefits of helping some smokers quit.