Sun, Jul 16, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Philip Morris’ global campaign to subvert the UN tobacco treaty

Uncovered internal documents reveal details of the largest publicly traded tobacco company’s secret operation to deploy its vast resources against international efforts to reduce smoking

By Aditya Kalra, Paritosh Bansal, Duff Wilson and Tom Lasseter  /  Reuters, NEW DELHI and LAUSANNE, Switzerland

Illustration: Kevin Sheu

A group of cigarette company executives stood in the lobby of a drab convention center near New Delhi in November last year. They were waiting for credentials to enter the WHO’s global tobacco treaty conference, one designed to curb smoking and combat the influence of the cigarette industry.

Treaty officials did not want them there, but still, among those lined up hoping to get in were executives from Japan Tobacco International and British American Tobacco PLC.

There was a big name missing from the group: Philip Morris International. A Philip Morris representative later told reporters its employees did not turn up because the company knew it was not welcome.

In fact, executives from the largest publicly traded tobacco firm had flown in from around the world to New Delhi for the anti-tobacco meeting. Unknown to treaty organizers, they were staying at a hotel an hour from the convention center, working from an operations room there.

Philip Morris International would soon be holding secret meetings with delegates from the government of Vietnam and other treaty members.

The object of these clandestine activities: the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a treaty aimed at reducing smoking globally.

Philip Morris International is running a secretive campaign to block or weaken treaty provisions that save millions of lives by curbing tobacco use.

In an internal document, the company said it supported the enactment of the treaty, but Philip Morris had come to view it as a “regulatory runaway train” driven by “anti-tobacco extremists” — a description contained in the document, a 2014 PowerPoint presentation.

Confidential company documents and interviews with current and former Philip Morris employees reveal an offensive that stretches from the Americas to Africa to Asia, from hardscrabble tobacco fields to the halls of political power, in what might be one of the broadest corporate lobbying efforts in existence.

Details of those plans are laid bare in a cache of Philip Morris documents, one of the largest tobacco industry leaks ever.

Reuters is publishing a selection of those papers in a searchable repository, The Philip Morris File, at http://reut.rs/2sT51xF.

Dating from 2009 to last year, the thousands of pages include e-mails between executives, PowerPoint presentations, planning papers, policy toolkits, national lobbying plans and market analyses.

Taken as a whole, they present a company that has focused its vast global resources on bringing to heel the world’s tobacco control treaty.

TARGETING THE TREATY

Philip Morris works to subvert the treaty on multiple levels: It targets the FCTC conferences where delegates gather to decide on anti-smoking guidelines. It also lobbies at the country level, where the makeup of FCTC delegations is determined and treaty decisions are turned into legislation.

The documents, combined with reporting in 14 nations from Brazil to Uganda to Vietnam, reveal that a goal of Philip Morris is to increase the number of delegates at the treaty conventions who are not from health ministries or involved in public health.

That is happening: An analysis of delegates to the FCTC’s biennial conference shows a rise since the first convention in 2006 in the number of officials from ministries like trade, finance and agriculture for whom tobacco revenue can be a higher priority than health concerns.

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