Foundation Spending Questioned

Posted 18th June 2019 by Dave Cross
The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) received a massive $1 billion donation from Philip Morris International (PMI) to set itself up and carry out work related to tobacco harm reduction. Opponents see nothing but Big Tobacco and don’t look any further. A letter has been published in The Lancet, repeating lazy slurs and engaging flawed thinking. Isn’t it time “for a new conversation"?

The letter opens: “The Foundation claims to be an independent scientific body aiming to ‘accelerate an end to smoking’. Yet controversy has surrounded the Foundation since its inception; its claims of legitimacy and independence have been strongly disputed and WHO and hundreds of public health organisations globally have taken a strong stance in rejecting collaboration with the Foundation.”

The authors claim: “Of the $80 million annual donation from Philip Morris International, the Foundation spent $6·46 million on research grants in 2018, $7·59 million on communications (the majority of which was spent on public relations organisations), and $7·03 million on staffing. $47·45 million remain unspent. With only a further $19·2 million of grant funding identified as approved for future payment, the Foundation appears to be struggling to fund research using the money it has received from the tobacco industry.”

Professor Anna Gilmore, Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, states this constitutes “mounting evidence that the Foundation should be seen neither as an independent organisation nor as a primarily scientific one."

"This greater expenditure on public relations than on research does not match the picture the Foundation paints of itself as a scientific body but instead supports the growing consensus that the Foundation provides a key public relations function for Philip Morris International."

FSFW President Derek Yach responded to the blinkered comments in a response to PRWeek: "Our first-year communications costs are in line with what it takes to build a global foundation from scratch addressing a health problem that impacts over a billion people. Among these initial investments, we reached millions of smokers using insights derived from our survey of 18,000 people in 13 countries. These early start-up cost structures have shifted markedly to grant-making. The Foundation plans to distribute more than $100m in grant funds over the next few years.”

Some of the projects funded by FSFW include the annual Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report and help for consumer advocacy organisations around the globe – all with the primary focus of driving down the harm caused by smoking and promoting alternative nicotine products to benefit billions of people.

Attacks on FSFW’s credibility are rooted in a philosophical opposition to tobacco companies for selling a legal product and ignore the measures put in place to prevent PMI exerting influence over outcomes.

Derek Yach continued: "It’s not about a launch that matters, it’s about results. Many foundations have started in a critical environment and ultimately effected vital change. Our focus is on delivering substantive insights that lead to the end of smoking combustible cigarettes. That is how we should, and will, be judged."

The letter also smears Riccardo Polosa’s Centre of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction and Neil McKeganey’s Glasgow-based Centre for Substance Use Research for where some of their funding originated. At the same time, the authors don’t feel that the income they receive from the staunchly anti-vaping Bloomberg Philanthropies Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP) project funding is in anyway a competing interest.

News this week is that Britain’s biggest pension fund has announced it is pulling investments from the tobacco sector. £6bn Nest pension fund manager Mark Fawcett said: “In our opinion, tobacco is a struggling industry which is being regulated out of existence. We have not taken this decision lightly, but we don’t think it makes sense to continue investing in an industry whose business model looks increasingly unsustainable.”

This follows ASH UK’s renewed call for local authority pension funds “to exclude tobacco-related stocks from their portfolio”.

Do any of these actions now benefit current smokers? Does attacking companies carrying out legal operations with an aim of starving them of income reduce smoking-related disease? Does smearing organisation devoted to reducing harm benefit smokers or vapers?

Opinion:

Some people buy the Daily Mail, others are avid readers of The Guardian – but a mature way to access the news is to look at several sources and analyse what constitutes fact and separate it from what is nothing more than belief.

The funding FSFW receives isn’t a secret and this in itself should speak volumes. Its policies are on full display, its accounts are open to inspection and its work is out there for analysis. There is no dark funding, so what exactly are tobacco controllers worried about?

This is a rhetorical question.

The work FSFW does may happen to mirror the future goals of the tobacco industry, being a shift from combustible to alternative nicotine products, but surely this should also reflect the goals of WHO and public health too?

Reducing tobacco-related harm means stepping out from the old paradigm but the old organisations are resistant to change. The smoking public and the companies which sold them products have changed drastically – public health “experts” are unable or unwilling to embrace this shift for fear of being seen as redundant, losing their status and/or witnessing an end to their income.

Laughably, they accuse vapers like us of being in the pay of Big T, “AstroTurf”. They want to diminish our voice – and the voices of anybody standing up for people like us (such as FSFW, Polosa, and McKeganey). The ad hominem approach to tobacco control, as demonstrated by the Lancet letter, has highlighted how redundant tobacco control organisations are in the eyes of the smoking/ex-smoking public.

Dr. Moira Gilchrist, Vice President for PMI’s Reduced Risk Products Corporate Affairs recently wrote: “It’s Time for a new conversation about how better alternatives to smoking can contribute to solving one of the world’s biggest public health problems.”

For as long as Public Health ignore the people they should be engaging and refuse to entertain ‘new conversations’ billions of smokers are being let down. You don’t have to agree with past behaviours to work to improve the future – a future The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and those associated with it are working exceptionally hard to bring about.

Resources:

  • “The Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World: tax return sheds light on funding activities” by Legg, Peeters, Chamberlain and Gilmore – [link]
  • The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World – [link]
  • GSTHR website – [link]
  • The GSTHR Executive Summary – [link]
  • The full GSTHR report – [link]
 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker