Statement: Regarding a Report on Tobacco Industry Efforts to Undermine The World Health Organization

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Aug. 2 2000

Washington, DC — The World Health Organization report released today dramatically exposes the tobacco industry's efforts to thwart the tobacco control initiatives of the WHO through subterfuge, deception, and guile. This report shows that the tobacco companies are now employing on a global scale the same tactics they have used for 40 years to block and undermine public health policies in the United States.


View the report at www.WHO.int (large file, 1.5MB .pdf)


According to industry documents made public in the report, tobacco industry executives at the highest levels conspired to divert attention from global public health issues, distort scientific studies on tobacco, reduce budgets for scientific and policy activities, and pit other United Nations agencies against the WHO, with the goal of discrediting the WHO as an institution. The tobacco industry even sought to convince developing nations that the WHO was opposed to their economic development.

The report identifies current Philip Morris Companies Inc. Chairman Geoffrey C. Bible as a leader in the tobacco industry's efforts to undermine the WHO. According to the report, Bible, while president of Philip Morris International, wrote a December 1988 memorandum called the "Boca Raton Action Plan" that lays out a detailed, systematic plan to thwart the WHO's tobacco control efforts. In Philip Morris' 1996 annual report, Bible was quoted as saying of international markets, "We are still in the foothills when it comes to exploring the full opportunities of our new markets." Today's WHO report shows the lengths to which Philip Morris is willing to go to maximize its profits while spreading death and disease around the globe.

The scope of the global tobacco epidemic demands a coordinated international response led by the WHO. The WHO estimates that 1.1 billion people smoke worldwide and four million people die each year from tobacco-related disease. If current trends continue, the number of deaths will rise to about 10 million per year by 2030, with 70 percent occurring in developing countries. More people are expected to die from tobacco-related illness over the next 30 years than from AIDS, automobile accidents, maternal mortality, homicide and suicide combined.

In October, the 191 member nations of the World Health Organization will begin formal negotiations on a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the first time in its 50-year history that the WHO has sought to negotiate an international health treaty. Just as the multinational tobacco companies operate across political boundaries in exporting and marketing their products, the response to the death and disease caused by tobacco products must be international in scope as well. In the wake of today's report, the WHO and its member countries must redouble their commitment to negotiating and implementing the Framework Convention, while increasing their vigilance to tobacco industry efforts to undermine this initiative.

For more than 40 years, the tobacco industry in the United States has done everything it can to keep the dangers of smoking hidden from the public. Big Tobacco has misrepresented the facts about nicotine addiction, tried to minimize the enormous toll tobacco takes in lives and money and even lied under oath to Congress. In a recent trial in Florida, the tobacco industry argued that it had changed its business practices and no longer engaged in deception about smoking. The Florida jury didn't believe the industry's claims of reform and assessed the largest punitive damage award in history. The report by the World Health Organization confirms the Florida jury's assessment that the tobacco industry is still up to its old tricks, only now on a global scale.

 

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