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Philip Morris International’s Massive Public Relations Push: the Foundation for a Smoke-free World

Philip Morris International – the huge multinational tobacco company – announced in September 2017 that it had established the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World - with funding of $80 million per year for 12 years – to fund research and encourage measures to reduce the harm caused by smoking. However, recent developments and ongoing analysis of documents indicate that a claimed “firewall” ensuring the Foundation’s independence from the tobacco company is breaking down and that the Foundation coordinates closely with Philip Morris to promote the companies’ products and undermine communications about their risks.  In fact, the world’s most prominent schools of public health and global health leaders have denounced the Foundation as a transparent part of Philip Morris’s strategy to addict its customers to tobacco and nicotine products and perpetuate an epidemic that kills more than 8 million people worldwide each year.

These public health authorities are asking how a foundation that is solely funded by a giant tobacco company like Philip Morris – and whose mission mirrors the language used by the company – can be trusted as part of the solution to smoking?

Undermining Global Public Health

Just as Big Tobacco has done for the past 60 years, the Foundation is Philip Morris’ latest effort to undermine efforts to drive down rates of tobacco use by funding so-called “independent” research on safer alternatives to smoking cigarettes such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products. And it’s no surprise that these tobacco and nicotine products are made by Philip Morris and have the potential to generate enormous profits for the company.

The danger of the Foundation goes far beyond a misleading name. The interests of cigarette firms like Philip Morris International are the polar opposite of those tasked with safe-guarding public health. By masquerading as an independent, health-focused organization, the Foundation is trying to work with credible leaders in the public health community to further the interests of Big Tobacco.

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first public health treaty, provides countries with evidence-based tobacco control solutions. The Foundation was designed to distract public health leaders, researchers and governments from these science-based efforts which have been proven to reduce tobacco use.

According to Tobacco Tactics, the Foundation’s 2019 tax return shows that more than two years after its creation the Foundation remained solely funded by Philip Morris. Furthermore, the tax return reveals the Foundation’s grants and contributions are not primarily focused on funding scientific research but rather appear to be in line with its public relations and advocacy strategies.

A lawsuit filed in January 2020 by a former employee of the Foundation alleges that - far from being the independent, health-focused organization it claims to be – the Foundation coordinates its activities with some of the world’s biggest tobacco companies including Philip Morris International and U.S.-based Altria. Further, the lawsuit alleges that the Foundation goes so far as to promote the tobacco companies’ addictive products such as electronic cigarettes and reinforces the tobacco companies’ marketing themes, and that it may be violating its tax-exempt status in the United States given its interactions with these tobacco companies.

And that “firewall” in place to supposedly guarantee the Foundation’s independence from Philip Morris? The newest Pledge Agreement between the two entities makes clear no such firewall exists.

Credible Institutions Should Not Work With the Foundation

It is increasingly clear that the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World is a Philip Morris smokescreen to pave the way for the company’s products and help the company appear to be concerned with health. Schools of public health, research institutes, non-governmental organizations and government officials who do not want to undermine their mission and reputation should publicly decline to work with the Foundation and call on their peers to do the same.

Last updated Aug. 16, 2021 

 

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