Bloomberg launches $20 million fund to fight big tobacco companies

Michael Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies on Wednesday announced it would provide $20 million in funding to launch Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP), a new global watchdog that will aggressively monitor deceptive tobacco industry tactics and practices to undermine public health.

Announced at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town, STOP will function as a robust global monitoring system that complements existing efforts in identifying industry deception, the organisation said.

The watchdog will deliver regular reports detailing tactics and strategies both at global and country-level and will provide tools and training material for countries to combat Big Tobacco’s influence.

It will also liaise with partners of the existing Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use to supplement country-level grants that assist nonprofits and governments in pushing back strongly against interference by Big Tobacco.

Findings will be publicly available and fully aligned with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that clearly outlines the prohibition of tobacco industry involvement in government policymaking.

“Over the last decade tobacco control measures have saved nearly 35 million lives, but as more cities and countries take action, the tobacco industry is pushing to find new users, particularly among young people,” said Michael Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Bloomberg Philanthropies founder.

“We cannot stand by as the industry misleads the public in an effort to get more people hooked on its products – and this global watchdog will help us hold the industry accountable.”

For decades, tobacco giants have employed moves, such as engaging in anti-smoking campaigns, seen by advocates as tactics to deceive the public.

For instance, Philip Morris International recently provided an initial $80 million funding to ‘Foundation for a Smoke-free World,’ a move seen by many public health experts as a thinly veiled effort to legitimise the tobacco industry and allow them access to the policy-making table.

In addition to aggressively marketing its combustible cigarettes to children and teenagers in low and middle-income countries, the tobacco industry is pushing alternative products, such as heat-not-burn and e-cigarettes, as cessation devices while the evidence remains inconclusive.

With its initial $20 million investment, STOP will divide resources between robust monitoring and reporting of industry behaviour, and combating the false narratives often created on the ground.

“STOP will commit itself to exposing this industry wherever it wields its considerable resources to influence government policy; whenever it distracts from proven interventions by promoting unproven alternative products as a solution; and whenever it gains access to the public debate using false and misleading science,” said Kelly Henning, Director of Public Health Programmes at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“We already have the tools to succeed today. We have made huge progress over the past two decades and we can continue to make massive inroads in reducing the ill health and suffering from tobacco use.”

Tobacco use kills more than seven million people annually, according to the WHO.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, said STOP is a warning call to tobacco companies that they are on notice.

“The World Health Organisation and our partners will not accept efforts to undermine the huge successes in tobacco Control that we have achieved over the past few decades. There is no going back.”

Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the launch of the STOP initiative is timely.

“It comes as tobacco giants such as Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco are waging duplicitous PR campaigns claiming to be changed, responsible companies that want to help solve the tobacco problem,” Mr. Myers said.

“Philip Morris, BAT and other tobacco companies remain the main cause of this enormous public health problem and the primary obstacle to greater progress.

“To save lives, governments across the globe must stand up to the tobacco industry and fully implement the proven strategies called for by the tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. These include significant tobacco tax increases, comprehensive smoke-free laws, advertising bans and large, graphic health warnings.”

A gathering of researchers, scientists

On Wednesday, over 2,000 delegates – researchers, scientists, UN and civil society representatives, healthcare professionals and policymakers from more than 100 countries converged on Cape Town for the triennial World Conference on Tobacco or Health.

The conference theme ‘Uniting the World For A Tobacco Free Generation,’ recognises that international collaboration is vital for tackling tobacco use.

This year’s event is the first in its 50-year history to be held in Africa.

“We in South Africa are honoured to be co-hosting this important international conference with world experts and fellow health workers to address this epidemic by working together to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure,” said Aaron Motsoaledi, the South African Health Minister.

The WHO FCTC, one of the most swiftly embraced United Nations treaties, forms the cornerstone of the conference. In just over ten years, 181 countries have legally obliged to adopt and implement its measures for reducing tobacco use.

Since the FCTC came into force over a decade ago, high impact policies including 100 percent smoke-free public places and bans on tobacco advertising and promotions have been introduced in countries around the world.

The FCTC explicitly states that the interests of the tobacco industry are fundamentally irreconcilable with the interests of public health, and as such, tobacco industry involvement in public health must be prevented.

Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC, said tobacco control was at the heart of the new Sustainable Development Agenda.

“By accelerating the implementation of the WHO FCTC, the global tobacco control treaty, and becoming parties to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, countries can facilitate the achievement of their goals by 2030 and save tens of millions of lives.”

Michael Bloomberg, Founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies; Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General; and Aaron Motsoaledi, the South African Health Minister at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town.


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