Earlier this month, Philip Morris International pledged a billion dollars to reduce the prevalence smoking and “build a smoke-free world.” It goes without saying that this is an interesting concept: One of the world’s most prominent tobacco companies vowing to put an end to its primary source of revenue. But what makes this more interesting is who is against it, and who is at the helm.
Derek Yach, the former World Health Organization official who was instrumental in developing the WHO’s global tobacco control treaty, is taking the reigns of the Foundation For A Smoke-Free World.
Unsurprisingly, anti-tobacco organizations like Action on Smoking and Health are suspicious of PMI’s intent. They do not want any tobacco company’s money going anywhere other than to organizations like theirs (via various governments). But they can’t say that.
Tobacco control organizations have never voiced any reservations about accepting funding from tobacco taxation to keep their fiscal health afloat with funds derived from the crop. While sleeping with the enemy, they pretend to detest tobacco and are now incapable of nothing less than hypocritical thinking.
As PMI attempts to lower smoking rates, ASH takes the irreconcilable stance that Big Tobacco’s money cannot be used to promote public health, citing the WHO’s treaty that “There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.” However, in their statement, they didn’t even acknowledge Yach’s involvement, despite the fact that he led the development of that treaty. Instead, they chose to voice their distrust in PMI, stating the goals seemed well-intended, but “to those of us in public health, they sound suspicious.”
The so-called “scream test” is the notion that you can determine how effective something is by how the other side reacts, or how loud they scream.
One of the best examples of the scream test was just released in the British Medical Journal in a blog titled “A ‘Frank Statement’ for the 21st Century?“. In this piece, the authors do not react to PMI’s heartening move with sobriety and optimism. Instead of looking forward to the promise of a smoke-free world, the tobacco control advocates protest by tellingly referencing a very dusty industry document from over half a century ago.
As the Foundation For A Smoke-Free World progresses with what may be some of the best research, untouched and uncontrolled by those in tobacco control who make their livelihood off government-disbursed Big Tobacco money, the “experts” want to live in the past. They’re already screaming the same self-serving things in their blog: They yell that policymakers need to have the “backbones of steel” to work with them to implement “strong tobacco control measures,” “high taxes,” “smoke-free laws” and “media campaigns to denormalize both smoking and tobacco companies”.
Perhaps anyone unfamiliar with how the tobacco control industry makes money might give some weight to this statement/scream test. One might expect the the “experts” to welcome a a billion dollar investment to end smoking. But no smoking would mean no tobacco to control. All in all, the anti-tobacco lobby is threatened by progress. They’re not used to it.
So they’ll keep fighting good faith efforts by PMI and others, fighting to keep control (and a consistent stream of income) rather than admit their “track record” of implementing lackluster policies has been less than desirable for decades. Instead of sleeping with the enemy, they choose to remain the enemy. It suits them.
Anyone who realizes the harm of tobacco (and the relative healthfulness of alternatives like vaping) should welcome Philip Morris’s effort. I, for one, trust PMI and this initiative, especially with Yach at the wheel. Who would you trust more with a billion dollars: a respected administrator or a hysterical cottage industry screaming at the trough of tobacco control?