Last September, one of the major tobacco companies and maker of Marlboro, Philip Morris International Inc (PMI), made yet another bold announcement saying that it will allocate $1 billion to set up a foundation that will fight smoking, and then dispense a further $80 million yearly towards the project for 12 years.
Naturally, many anti-smoking experts are sceptical that the aim of such a motion is nothing but an effort to ensure the visibility and success of Philip Morris’ harm reduction product, iQOS. One of these experts is Professor of public health Dr. Michael Siegel. The professor had in fact been approached and asked to consult on this project, and felt the need to decline.
Yach believes in dialogue and cooperation
“To actually accelerate the decline in the billion smokers, we need to have better cessation, harm reduction and better product regulation,” he said. “And, I think those elements, I do not think have got the energy that we actually require.”
Yach added that every year, over seven million people globally die from smoking related diseases, and that the foundation’s aim is to help smokers quit via safer alternatives. “If these products have an impact, we need to have independent research to show that they should be given more support. So, our work will not be to simply push them out, but to do high quality research to look at the negative and positive sides.”
Vice-President of Communications at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Vince Willmore, is amongst those who think that as long as the foundation is funded by PMI, it lacks credibility. “This foundation is really a smoke-screen designed to promote Philip Morris’ business interests and undermine real efforts to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use around the world,” he said, adding, “It is hard to take Philip Morris seriously that they want a smoke-free world when they are marketing cigarettes as aggressively as ever and they are fighting real solutions to reduce smoking.”
Helping smokers quit should be everyone’s priority
In response to such statements, Yach says he wants to assure his peers that he has not “gone over to the dark side,” adding that his relationship with PMI is based on opportunity not trust. “I am not naïve enough to believe that Philip Morris is doing this because of the warm fuzzy feeling that they want to lower the death rates. No. What they want to do is have a product that is less risky and that makes them profits. That is the beginning and end of it.”
He added that he’s aware that many of his former colleagues at the WHO and current peers disagree with his approach, and that working with PMI is also something he struggles with personally, however he believes that anything possible should be done to reduce smoking. “With one billion lives hanging in the balance, we urgently must do more to cut the adult smoking rate,” he said. “Too much is at stake.”
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