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

Philip Morris International, maker of Marlboro cigarettes and one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, announced in September 2017 that it had established the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. The alleged goal of this foundation is to fund research and encourage measures to reduce the harm caused by smoking – but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

While it claims to be an independent research entity concerned with the harms of tobacco use, the Foundation is nothing more than another arm of Philip Morris International.

Since its inception, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World has used its funding from Philip Morris International to provide grants aimed at undermining the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and national tobacco control policies meant to drive down rates of tobacco use.

For several years, the Foundation has sought out reputable organizations to help it do the bidding of Big Tobacco. Grants distributed by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World have also been used to fund tobacco industry front groups and to confuse the public and policymakers about the true intentions of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. Some organizations and individuals have even used former associations with organizations like the WHO and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to bolster their credibility.

Recent developments and ongoing analysis of documents indicate that a claimed “firewall” ensuring the Foundation’s independence from Philip Morris is breaking down and that the Foundation coordinates closely with Philip Morris to promote the companies’ products and undermine communications about their risks.

Yet given the overwhelming evidence that the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World is indistinguishable from Philip Morris International, dozens of organizations around the world, including the world’s most prominent schools of public health and global health leaders have vowed not to work with the organization. Many have denounced the Foundation and its allies as a key 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.

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 tax returns show that more than two years after its creation the Foundation remained solely funded by Philip Morris. Furthermore, the tax returns 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.

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.


In recent years, funding to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World has steadily decreased as more organizations have vowed not to support its work or partner with the Foundation.

Additionally, for several years, decreased funding and instability among leadership and staff have continued to plague the Foundation. In October 2021, the Foundation abruptly announced the departure of Derek Yach, the group’s president.

Last updated Oct. 26, 2021 


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