WHO calls out conflict of interest in tobacco industry funding smoke-free foundation

04 October 2017 Tobacco

A statement released by the World Health Organization (WHO) addresses the launch of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, funded by tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI), and calls for governments and the public health community not to partner with it.

A conflict of interest

The Foundation, led by a former WHO official to support research about harm reduction solutions to smoking, has secured funding from PMI of approximately US$80 million annually over the next 12 years.

The UN General Assembly has recognized a “fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health”. WHO Member States have stated that “WHO does not engage with the tobacco industry or non-State actors that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry”, the Organization will therefore not engage with this new Foundation.

WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is a tobacco control evidence-based treaty that provides a roadmap to a tobacco-free world. Article 5.3 of the Convention obliges Parties to act to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. Guidelines for implementation of this Article state that governments should limit interactions with the tobacco industry, avoid partnership, and refuse financial or other contributions.

Tobacco control policies such as tobacco taxes, graphic warning labels, comprehensive bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and offering help to quit tobacco use have been proven to reduce demand for tobacco products. These policies focus not just on helping existing users to quit, but on preventing initiation. WHO states that if PMI were truly committed to a smoke-free world, they would support these policies rather than oppose them and engage in large scale lobbying against them.

Tobacco and oral health

Tobacco use increases the risk of developing gum disease and oral cancer – which is among the 10 most common cancers. It also causes teeth staining, bad breath, premature tooth loss, loss of taste and smell. Smokeless tobacco is particularly dangerous for oral health, since it comes in direct contact with the tissues of the oral cavity.

FDI supports policies for tobacco control to decrease consumption rates and promote cessation. Oral health professionals have an important role to play in tobacco use prevention and helping patients reduce or quit tobacco use. An advocacy guide for oral health professionals was developed jointly by FDI and WHO providing a range of recommendations to move the tobacco control agenda forward.

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