Health ministry asks state govts not to partner with anti-tobacco foundation funded by Philip Morris

When the Foundation was launched in 2017, the WHO had said it will not partner with the foundation and asked governments around the world and public health communities to follow the agency’s lead.

Reuters July 01, 2019 09:58:32 IST
Health ministry asks state govts not to partner with anti-tobacco foundation funded by Philip Morris
  • The Foundation (FSFW) focuses on eliminating the usage of cigarettes and works toward smoking cessation using new technologies

  • Three Indian anti-tobacco groups earlier this year wrote to the health ministry calling for the rejection of any possible partnerships with FSFW

  • When the FSFW was launched in 2017, the WHO had said it will not partner with the foundation

New Delhi: India’s health ministry has asked all state governments in the country not to partner with the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) because of its links to tobacco giant Philip Morris International Inc, a letter seen by Reuters showed.

Established in 2017, the FSFW focuses on eliminating the usage of cigarettes and works toward smoking cessation using new technologies and alternative products. It says it works independently, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has said there are “clear conflicts” due to the $80 million in annual funding the foundation receives from Philip Morris.

At least three Indian anti-tobacco groups earlier this year wrote to the federal health ministry in New Delhi calling for the rejection of any possible partnerships with FSFW, according to copies of their representations seen by Reuters.

Health ministry asks state govts not to partner with antitobacco foundation funded by Philip Morris

Representative image. Reuters

The health ministry has sent a letter, dated 24 June, to chief secretaries of all states, saying they should not partner with FSFW and also advise other departments and institutions in their region accordingly.

The ministry said Philip Morris was funding FSFW as well as manufacturing and promoting harm-reduction smoking devices. Reuters has previously reported Philip Morris has plans to launch its iQOS smoking device in India which it says is less harmful than conventional cigarettes.

“Any collaboration with the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World should be avoided in the larger interest of Public Health,” a senior health ministry official, Sanjeeva Kumar, wrote in the letter, which was reviewed by Reuters.

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which is led by former WHO official Derek Yach, said it “operates with complete independence from Philip Morris” and was committed to full transparency about who its funders were.

Philip Morris, which has a stated longer-term vision to replace cigarette sales with products such as its iQOS device, in a statement, said FSFW was “an independent body governed by its own independent Board of Directors”.

Tobacco in India

In recent years, the government has intensified its tobacco-control efforts, raising cigarette taxes and ordering companies to print bigger health warnings on cigarette packs.

India has 106 million adult smokers, second only to China, and more than 900,000 people die each year in India due to tobacco-related illnesses.

A federal health ministry official said on Sunday the letter on FSFW had been sent as a preventive measure to dissuade states from any collaboration with the foundation, and similar instructions were likely to be sent to other federal ministries.

The FSFW said there were no projects with any state government institutions in India. “We seek partnerships with all who share our goal to end smoking in the world,” a spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters.

In May, FSFW said its team was committed to working with others “to accelerate an end to smoking in this generation” in India. It also invited people to study its strategic plan.

That same month, Philip Morris in a press statement said it had urged the Indian government to create a regulatory environment for devices such as its iQOS.

When the FSFW was launched in 2017, the WHO had said it will not partner with the foundation and asked governments around the world and public health communities to follow the agency’s lead.

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