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.
Distrust towards The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World due to PMI funding
Naturally, many anti-smoking experts are skeptical that this motion is nothing but one of a series of recent publicity stunts by the big tobacco company to ensure the visibility and success of its Heat not Burn product, iQOS. A number of public health schools across the US and Canada concur. Deans at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and other universities said the group is too closely tied to PMI to be taken seriously.
These deans have released a joint signed statement pointing out that if Philip Morris wants to end smoking, it should stop selling and advertising cigarettes. “Further, both the tobacco industry and Philip Morris International have a long history of funding ‘research’ in ways meant to purposely confuse the public and advance their own interests,” the statement says.
Dean for academic affairs at Harvard’s public health school Karen Emmons, finds the idea of accepting research money from Big Tobacco contrary to everything they stand for. “The idea of taking money that’s from the tobacco industry is just antithetical to everything we do,” said Emmons, adding, “Philip Morris in particular has focused very hard to undermine the strategies that we know will reduce smoking rates.”
Foundation’s President insists on the importance of collaboration
When the foundation was set up, many were surprised to see that Derek Yach, a former World Health Organization (WHO) official, who was directly involved in the global tobacco treaty, accepted a leading position in the Foundation. When previously asked about his sentiments towards Big Tobacco, Yach had pointed out that in order to combat the current smoking epidemic, dialogue and collaboration are needed, rather than hostility.
Furthermore, last December Yach released a statement assuring his peers that he accepted this position for the right reasons. He said he wanted to assure everyone 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.”
Hence, Yach finds the deans’ motion is “disappointing, and a loss for smokers”. He added that PMI has no influence on the foundation and that the research would be of benefit to all. “We share the same goals: To improve public health and urgently advocate for more funding and better science to help millions of smokers reduce their risk of death and disease.”
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