Dr. Siegel about PMI's 'Foundation for a Smoke-Free World'

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.

Siegel pointed out that despite PMI’s several statements about fighting smoking, the tobacco company is still trying to kill efforts by the authorities to implement anti-smoking strategies, such as plain packaging.

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 infact been approached and asked to consult on this project, however he felt the need to decline.

The professor pointed out that despite PMI’s several statements saying that they aim to fight smoking, the tobacco company is still heavily fighting any efforts by the authorities to implement anti-smoking strategies, such as plain packaging. Such motions leave the professor skeptical about PMI’s real motives, and in his opinion the company’s latest initiative confirms his suspicions.

Smoke-Free Foundation calls for research proposals

In yesterday’s blog, Siegel pointed out that the Foundation recently released a call for research proposals for preliminary projects, that will help obtain the necessary background information required to start its work. However, pointed out this professor, this move proves that the foundation is nothing but a scam.

“The Foundation calls for “scoping projects” to study strategies to reduce smoking. But nowhere in the five-page document does it mention anything about interventions to: (1) severely restrict or curtail cigarette advertising and marketing; (2) require plain packaging; (3) substantially increase cigarette taxes; (4) promote 100% smoke-free environments; and (5) heavily fund aggressive, state-of-the-art anti-smoking media campaigns.” Dr. Michael Siegel, Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health

“The Foundation calls for “scoping projects” to study strategies to reduce smoking. But nowhere in the five-page document does it mention anything about interventions to: (1) severely restrict or curtail cigarette advertising and marketing; (2) require plain packaging; (3) substantially increase cigarette taxes; (4) promote 100% smoke-free environments; and (5) heavily fund aggressive, state-of-the-art anti-smoking media campaigns,” pointed out Siegel.

No more research required, we need funds to put proven effective strategies into practice

The professor said that the foundation is focusing on research related to the role of genetics, physiology, individual choices and activities and environmental influences. However he said, we do not need any more such research, as we already have sufficient information to know what works and what doesn’t in reducing smoking rates. “What we need to do is to heavily fund programs to promote these tried and true policy strategies,” he argued.

“Instead of wasting this money on research into topics like genetics and individual choices and activities, it would use its money to fund programs to implement – worldwide – policies and programs that we know are effective. These are: 1) severely restrict or curtail cigarette advertising and marketing; (2) require plain packaging; (3) substantially increase cigarette taxes; (4) promote 100% smoke-free environments; and (5) heavily fund aggressive, state-of-the-art anti-smoking media campaigns.”Dr. Michael Siegel, Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health

Siegel said that if the foundation was serious about reducing smoking rates “instead of wasting this money on research into topics like genetics and individual choices and activities, it would use its money to fund programs to implement – worldwide – policies and programs that we know are effective. These are: 1) severely restrict or curtail cigarette advertising and marketing; (2) require plain packaging; (3) substantially increase cigarette taxes; (4) promote 100% smoke-free environments; and (5) heavily fund aggressive, state-of-the-art anti-smoking media campaigns.”

In contrast, another no-smoking expert believes in 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.

“What we need to do is to heavily fund programs to promote these tried and true policy strategies.”Dr. Michael Siegel, Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health

Infact when last month the World Health Organization (WHO), condemned the foundation, saying that there is a conflict of interest in a tobacco firm funding such research, Yach said that the organization’s stance disappointed him. “I am deeply disappointed, therefore, by WHO’s complete mischaracterisation of the nature, structure and intent of the Foundation in its recent statements — and especially by its admonition to others not to work together,” he said.

Read Further: The Rest of the Story: Tobacco News Analysis and Commentery

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