BIG TOBACCO: Conspired Against WHO Antismoking Efforts?
The tobacco industry has waged a calculated, stealth campaign to undermine the World Health Organization and foil its antismoking efforts around the globe, according to a "scathing" report released by the agency today, the Washington Post reports. According to the 240-page document, tobacco companies attempted to turn other U.N.-affiliated agencies against the WHO; tried to "discredit" the WHO and cut its budgets; and hired "independent" experts to distort the results of scientific research on the effects of smoking. The report, written by a WHO committee headed by Thomas Zeltner, director of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, relied on more than 35 million tobacco industry documents made available through U.S. court proceedings. "The tobacco companies' own documents show that they viewed WHO ... as one of their foremost enemies ... the tobacco companies instigated global strategies to discredit and impede WHO's ability to carry out its mission," the report charges (Kaufman, 8/2). "Nobody who is working in the area of tobacco control is surprised that tobacco companies are trying to limit our influence," Zeltner said, adding, "But the surprise is how elaborate and well financed the whole activity was." Although David Davies, a vice president with Philip Morris International, did not deny the WHO's findings, he argued that the documents cited harked back to a different era for the tobacco industry (Meier, New York Times, 8/2). "They are the product of a polarized and unproductive environment in which few solutions were sought, and conflict prevailed over consensus," Davies said, adding that the documents do not "substantiate a conclusion that Philip Morris obstructed WHO's health messages about tobacco or its tobacco control initiatives" (Washington Post, 8/2). Michael Prideaux, a British-American Tobacco spokesperson, lamented the report. "It is very sad that the WHO ... ha[s] succumbed to the plaintiffs' obsession with old documents, rather than how we might work together constructively to move things forward," he said. For David Nabarro, a WHO official, the report signals a need for U.N. agencies to implement better safeguards against industry interests (New York Times, 8/2). The report will also strengthen the WHO's position for formal negotiations on an international tobacco control treaty in October, an agreement that could impose tough limits on advertising and marketing for tobacco firms and include provisions on taxation, smuggling and crop substitution for tobacco-dependent nations (Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 8/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.