WHO Chief Slams Big Tobacco’s Big Money and “Dirty Tricks”

October 12, 2011

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret ChanWorld Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan has accused the tobacco industry of dirty tricks and unethical behavior in its latest efforts to challenge tobacco-control laws and policies around the world.

'It is horrific to think that an industry known for its dirty tricks and dirty laundry could be allowed to trump what is clearly in the public’s best interests,' Chan said at a WHO meeting in Manila.  She cited legal actions that tobacco companies have taken against Uruguay and Australia, saying these are meant to frighten other countries from taking action against the global tobacco epidemic.    

'Big tobacco can afford to hire the best lawyers and PR firms that money can buy,' Chan said. 'Big money can speak louder than any moral, ethical or public health argument and can trample even the most damning scientific evidence.'

The tobacco industry is increasingly challenging policies to reduce tobacco use as violations of trade and investment agreements.  For example, Philip Morris International has challenged Uruguay’s strong tobacco-control laws with a suit claiming they violate an investment treaty. It also has claimed that Australia’s plan to require cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging violates international trade obligations.

'I urge all these countries to stand firm together, do not bow to pressure … we must never allow the tobacco industry to get the other hand,' Chan said.

Without urgent action, tobacco will kill one billion people worldwide this century. The WHO has identified tobacco control policies as 'best buys' governments can implement to stem a global epidemic of non-communicable diseases, which have surpassed infectious disease as the leading cause of death worldwide. Tobacco use is a risk factor for all of the main non-communicable diseases — cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.