Leaked Report Reveals Tobacco Giant's Fight Against Anti-Smoking Policies

By Kelly Burch 07/18/17

In a massive lobbying effort, Philip Morris is targeting a World Health Organization global treaty aimed to reduce smoking.

a fist clenching a handful of cigarettes

Long after the tobacco industry downplayed the negative health effects of smoking, tobacco giant Philip Morris maintains efforts to systematically block and undermine global efforts to reduce smoking. 

According to a 2014 Powerpoint presentation from the company that was leaked to Reuters, the company feels that “Roadblocks are as important as solutions.”

An extensive report by Reuters shows that Philip Morris has particularly targeted the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a treaty that is designed to reduce smoking around the world. According to Reuters, the effort “may be one of the broadest corporate lobbying efforts in existence.”

Leaked documents from 2009 through 2016—which Reuters says is the largest tobacco industry leak ever—have been compiled into a searchable database. “Taken as a whole, they present a company that has focused its vast global resources on bringing to heel the world’s tobacco control treaty,” the Reuters report says. 

The tobacco giant takes a multi-level approach to undermining the FCTC treaty. It targets conferences where the treaty’s guidelines are established, but also works within individual countries to shape the delegations that are sent to the FCTC conferences and to affect how the treaty’s guidelines are crafted into legislation. 

“Analysis of delegates to the FCTC’s biennial conference shows a rise since the first convention in 2006 in the number of officials from ministries like trade, finance and agriculture for whom tobacco revenues can be a higher priority than health concerns,” the report says. 

Global health leaders who spoke with Reuters were not surprised to discover the extent that the industry went to in order to undermine the FCTC recommendations. A report from the WHO last year on global implementation of the treaty concluded, “The tobacco industry continues to be the most important barrier in implementation of the Convention.”

“Some people think that with tobacco, you’ve won the battle,” said former Finnish Health Minister Pekka Puska, who chaired an FCTC committee last year. “No way,” he said. “The tobacco industry is more powerful than ever.”

“It’s a real war,” said Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, head of the FCTC treaty Secretariat. She noted that FCTC banned the public from attending a 2014 conference in Moscow to prevent tobacco executives from coming into the conference. In response, industry representatives started borrowing badges from delegates. 

“This is so disgusting. These are the forces against which we have to work,” said da Costa e Silva. 

She added that the lobbying efforts and attempts to change the compositions of the delegation have been successful in some ways. 

“You could see from the floor that interventions were very, very, very much focusing on the trade aspects, many times even putting trade over health,” she said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.