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New Report Exposes Philip Morris's Efforts To Undermine International Tobacco Control Treaty

Statement of Judith P. Wilkenfeld, Director, International Programs Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 18, 2002

Geneva, Switzerland — As negotiations resume today on the proposed international tobacco control treaty, a new report released by the journal Tobacco Control shows that Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, has sought to use underhanded tactics behind the scenes to undermine the treaty. The study exposes internal Philip Morris documents showing that the company hired a Washington, DC-based public relations firm, Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin (MBD), that specializes in helping businesses learn about and undermine the efforts of public interest organizations. The report details MBD's long history of working to thwart tobacco control, environmental, consumer rights and social justice advocacy campaigns by gathering intelligence about these efforts, developing ineffective alternatives and front groups to advocate for them, and then working to divide and conquer activist movements. Now, the Report finds that these same tactics are being used on behalf of Philip Morris to weaken the proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The hiring of Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin shows once again that Philip Morris is just blowing smoke when it claims to have changed and it continues to put its bottom line ahead of the public health. This report is also further evidence of why treaty negotiators, especially those from the United States, should ignore the views of the tobacco industry and write a strong and enforceable treaty that puts public health protection first.

Today's report finds that since 1997 MBD has been working on behalf of Philip Morris to undermine the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control process, which was initiated in 1996 under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), and it has been advising Philip Morris on undermining the WHO in general. In 1998, according to the report, MBD investigated and sought to discredit former Norwegian Prime Minister and current WHO Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland as she was being considered for the WHO position. Dr. Brundtland has made tobacco control a top priority for the WHO. MBD has also advised Philip Morris on how to delay the Framework Convention, how to frame the issue to minimize its impact, the involvement of non-governmental organizations in the process, and how to take a regional approach to influencing nations. The report also shows that this is not the first time that the tobacco industry has turned to MBD for help. Among other efforts, Philip Morris in 1992 asked MBD to investigate several tobacco control advocates, and MBD has worked to undermine clean indoor air measures and the efforts of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products.

Today's report shows that, despite their claims to the contrary, the tobacco companies have not stopped their efforts to thwart the tobacco control initiatives of the WHO, which were first exposed in an August 2000 report. According to industry documents made public in that report, tobacco industry executives at the highest levels conspired to divert attention from global 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 is desperate to undermine the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control because they realize the potential of a strong convention to undermine their assault on the developing world, which is a key to their future. They are equally as aggressive in finding and exploiting new markets as they are in fighting tobacco control measures. The world's nations should react with outrage at the industry's tactics and negotiate a strong and enforceable tobacco control treaty.

View a copy of the study