Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 9 News List

New watchdog to ‘aggressively monitor’ tobacco industry tactics

Michael Bloomberg has commited US$20 million to a watchdog project amid fears of sneaky tricks by big cigarette companies

By Sarah Boseley  /  The Guardian

A new global watchdog agency has been launched to monitor the tobacco industry with US$20 million of philanthropic funding amid fears of dirty tactics by cigarette companies hit by declining smoking rates in the West.

The funding for the agency — Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP) — comes from Bloomberg Philanthropies, whose founder, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, has committed nearly US$1 billion to the global fight against tobacco.

The agency will “aggressively monitor deceptive tobacco industry tactics and practices to undermine public health,” Bloomberg Philanthropies said.

Global information and data on the behavior of the tobacco companies, especially in low and middle-income countries where they are seeking to grow their markets, will be collated and held on a public Web site.

The move follows recent uproar among anti-tobacco and public health campaigners over the investment of US$80 million by the world’s biggest cigarette-maker, Philip Morris International (PMI), in a new body called the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.

PMI, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, has said its future is in smokeless products such as new “heat not burn” tobacco-filled cigarettes that may be less harmful — although there is insufficient evidence to be sure — as well as e-cigarettes.

The foundation, which PMI says is independent and is headed by a former anti-tobacco crusader from the WHO, is offering funds for research projects.

The tobacco control movement has roundly denounced the foundation and accused PMI of duplicity.

Bloomberg, now WHO global ambassador for non-communicable diseases, said it was “an effort by Philip Morris to confuse the public and to misinform them deliberately.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies pointed out that the industry has form.

“Tobacco industry-funded research has repeatedly been a smokescreen for behavior that has led to worse outcomes for smokers. For example, supposedly safer low-tar and filtered cigarettes led to greater numbers of smokers, deeper inhalation patterns and higher daily consumption — all worsening public health worldwide,” it said in a statement.

At a briefing, Bloomberg accused the foundation of promoting “fake science, as well as fake news.”

“Unfortunately, I think you’ve seen this technique being used in our government to obfuscate and to confuse people,” he said.

Enormous progress had been made in helping people stop smoking and deterring them from starting, saving 35 million lives in the last decade, he said.

“I understand the tobacco companies want to protect their business, but to deliberately go out and to misinform people where lives are at stake is just something that I think we should not permit. And so my foundation has committed US$20 million as a start to explain to people what’s going on,” he said.

STOP was launched in Cape Town at the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, an event that is held every three years and brings together experts and campaigners from all over the world.

Nobody from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World was invited, which the organizers say is in line with the WHO’s framework convention on tobacco control.

That convention, signed by more than 160 countries, but not yet ratified by all of them, stipulates that no negotiations must take place with the tobacco industry.

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