Foundation for a Smoke-Free World Centres of Excellence

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Since May 2018 tobacco-industry front group the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) has been funding the establishment of multiple research centres into tobacco harm reduction across the globe.12

The FSFW is an ostensibly independent scientific organisation aimed at ‘accelerating the end of smoking’ which is solely funded by Philip Morris International (PMI). The Foundation has asserted that by funding these research centres it “aims to develop the next generation of leaders and institutions that will accelerate the end of smoking”.3

Two of the research centres have direct links to the tobacco industry. Visit the Foundation Grantees page for full details on all its grants.

New Zealand: Centre of Research Excellence on Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking

The first research centre funded by the FSFW was the Centre of Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking (COREISS) based in Auckland, New Zealand. COREISS was set up by Dr. Marewa Glover, a Māori public health academic and advocate for social justice and tobacco harm reduction. COREISS’ mission is to “support indigenous aspirations to flourish as individuals, families, tribes and nations who are recognized as sovereign people”.4 FSFW’s grant of US$978,449 was awarded to COREISS on 30 May 2018 and aimed at building “a global centre for smoking cessation and harm reduction in indigenous people”.1 As of May 2019 only US$489,225 had been paid out.1 By August 2019, this total had risen to US$1,798,829, with US$7,320,042 committed in future funding.2 The first FSFW-funded COREISS output was a report published in May 2019 and called “Quantifying Māori spend on tobacco, alcohol & gambling”.5 It summarised the tobacco, alcohol and gambling tax burden of the Māori population. Glover has long claimed that tobacco tax increases unfairly target Māori and Pasifika groups,67 “take money from the poor”,6 do not work,8 and push smokers to the illicit market.6 Some of these claims are arguments echoed by the tobacco industry.

Contrary to Glover’s claim, tobacco tax is a well-evidenced and effective tobacco control policy tool. (See also: Price and Tax). A 2019 World Bank report concluded that tobacco taxes have effectively reduced smoking prevalence in countries with various levels of economic and institutional development and only play a minor role in illicit trade.9

Glover has been criticised by NGO Hāpai Te Hauora Māori Public Health and a group of Indigenous public health experts from New Zealand, Canada, US and Australia for accepting (albeit indirectly) tobacco industry money and thereby legitimising the FSFW and PMI.10 Writing in Tobacco Control, the Indigenous health leaders state that the tobacco industry will “use the Foundation to meet its agenda which is in stark contrast to the health and well-being agendas of Indigenous peoples” and that “co-optation of Indigenous culture” must be resisted. They add that the tobacco industry has a history of exploiting and appropriating Indigenous culture to sell and promote commercial tobacco. They also assert that the debate around next generation products and their potential to improve Indigenous health should be led by Indigenous peoples and not be influenced by organisations linked to the tobacco industry.10

Italy: Center of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction (CoEHAR)

In May 2018 the FSFW awarded US$130,559 to ECLAT SRL, “a spin off of the University of Catania”,11 towards the “center of excellence for the acceleration of harm reduction (CoEHAR)”.1 By May 2019, this total had risen to US$8,036,493, with US$22,928,186 committed in future funding by FSFW.2

The CoEHAR was set up in March 2018 by tobacco harm reduction advocate Riccardo Polosa, who has a history of undertaking consultancy work for the tobacco industry. For example, in 2017 he was awarded a research grant of nearly a million Euros from PMI to investigate its heated tobacco products (HTP).12 In 2018, he consulted for British American Tobacco (BAT) on three clinical trials for HTP and e-cigarettes, via Swiss-based consultancy firm Health Diplomats led by Delon Human.13 For more information, go to our pages on CoEHAR and Riccardo Polosa.

Scotland: Centre of Excellence in Behaviour Research Related Smoking Cessation

The FSFW awarded US$96,063 in May 2018 to the Centre for Substance Use Research (CSUR), based in Glasgow “to develop a centre of excellence in behaviour research related to smoking cessation”.1 As of May 2019 US$92,941 had been paid out.1 The Centre did not receive further funding from FSFW in 2019.2

Neil McKeganey founded the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at the University of Glasgow in 1994 to carry out research on Scotland’s drug problem. Its projects were funded by UK research councils and the UK government, among others. In 2011, the Centre became entirely independent of the University14 and was renamed the Centre for Substance Use Research (CSUR) in November 2015.15 In 2016, the University confirmed it was not in any way affiliated with the CSUR and McKeganey no longer held any position there, honorary or otherwise.16 On its website the CSUR describes itself as “a specialist agency undertaking research within the substance use field within the U.K., E.U., and the U.S.”.17

CSUR has previously received funding from tobacco companies including PMI, BAT, and Fontem Ventures, a subsidiary of Imperial Brands.18 In 2014 McKeganey helped BAT oppose the introduction of Plain Packaging in the UK. McKeganey prepared a 82 page report for BAT which was included in BAT’s submission to the UK’s second public consultation on plain packaging in 2014.1920 In the report, McKeganey supports BAT’s view that there is no evidence to suggest that plain packaging will reduce smoking prevalence, and that packaging is not “a factor that influences people’s decisions to start, stop, or re-start smoking”.1920

In May 2016, dismissing the legal challenges to the UK’s plain packaging legislation brought by the big four tobacco companies, the High Court of Justice’s ruling criticised McKeganey’s findings and the methodology they were based on:20

“What I find unacceptable is the preparation of a report which by its total refusal to engage with any of this contramaterial simply conveys the impression that it does not exist and that the best way to refute it is to ignore it. Yet, at the same time and inconsistently, Professor McKeganey accepts that the principles of transparency and openness are “foundational tablets of the scientific enterprise”. Had Professor McKeganey confronted head-on the contrary evidence, including that from the tobacco companies, then it is hard to see how he could have advanced the opinions that he did; at the very least he would have been compelled to provide a proper rationale for why his opinion could be sustained in the light of this inconsistent evidence.”

More recently, McKeganey and CSUR have been working for e-cigarette company JUUL Labs, in which tobacco giant Altria has held a majority share since December 2018. In March 2019 JUUL Labs promoted a study by CSUR (funded by JUUL) which found that the JUUL e-cigarettes “dramatically” cut adult smokers’ cigarettes consumption.2122

Malawi: Centre for Agricultural Transformation

In July 2018 the Foundation launched a request for proposals up to the grant amount of US $10 million to establish a Centre for Agricultural Transformation (CAT) in Malawi.23 According to expression of interest documents, the CAT aims to support smallholder Malawian farmers in diversifying their incomes and livelihoods to reduce their reliance on tobacco farming. The Centre stated that it would achieve this through the development and implementation of new technologies, partnerships and income opportunities.24 In an operations statement released in May 2020, the Foundation outlines the CAT’s delivered and planned activities which aim to “Promote and accelerate the use of digital technologies and advanced data analytics to accelerate agricultural transformation in Malawi”.25 As of May 2020 it is still to appoint a director.

For more information see Centre for Agricultural Transformation.

Other Centres Funded by FSFW

South Africa: African Centre of Excellence for Smoking and Mental Health

In May 2018 the Foundation awarded the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Department of Psychiatry & Mental Health US$70,800 to set up an African Centre of Excellence for Smoking and Mental Health.1 The Principal Investigator on the grant was named as clinical psychologist Dr Adele Pretorius.26 In May 2019, the FSFW recorded that it had paid out US$24,517 to UCT.1 In October 2019, UCT’s Research Office confirmed that the grant had come to an end and that a policy was being put in place to disallow further funding from the tobacco industry.27

United States: Behavioral Psychology Centre of Excellence

In December 2018, the Foundation awarded the Florida-based Fox Foundation US$59,910 to scope out the possibility of a Behavioral Psychology Centre of Excellence.1 The Fox Foundation describes itself as a “non-profit corporation whose mission is to identify, develop and implement economically sustainable solutions for smoking cessation and other problems that can be addressed through behavior modification.”28 The Fox Foundation did not receive further FSFW funding in 2019.2

According to documents filed in February 2019 in the State of Florida,29 the Foundation’s chairman is Vaughn Volpi and its directors are Geoff Comrie and Charles Roe.

Vaughn Volpi is President for Tampa-based security company Pica.30 The “principle office address” for the Fox Foundation, as of 9 February 2019, is W. Gandy Blvd, which matches the address of Pica’s Tampa office.2831

Volpi’s biography at Pica’s website states that his areas of expertise include “intellectual property investigations and program management, global network and intelligence management, Internet fraud and security and undercover investigations”.30 He was previously the Co-Chairman of an anti-counterfeiting organisation, the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) Investigators Committee.30 In June 2019, the IACC website stated that amongst its members were PMI, Japan Tobacco International (JTI), and JUUL Labs.32 Pica was not listed as a member.

India: Center of Excellence

In May 2018 the Foundation awarded Metaform Ventures LLC US$100,000 to develop a proposal to establish a Center of Excellence in India.1 Metaform is a venture capital company registered in Pleasanton, California and documents filed with the State33 show it was registered in September 2017 and the Chief Executive is Jain Nilesh. It invests in technology companies and has increasingly looked at start ups in India.34

It is unclear what the focus of this Research Centre will be. In November 2018, Nilesh said in an interview with NewsBarons that:

“Healthcare in India is plagued for multiple reasons like poor infrastructure, lack of medical professionals in the semi urban and rural locations and the cost of medical treatment. Technology can play a major role in providing real time quality healthcare solutions across locations to a majority of our population who do not have access to basic healthcare facilities”.35

The FSFW 2019 tax return reported US$446,411 paid to Metaform in 2019, with US$1,041,625 committed in future funding.2

India: Center of Excellence on Harm Reduction Science

In May 2018, the Foundation awarded US$67,600 to the P.N. Srivastava Foundation For Scientific Education & Research in Shillong, for a “Detailed Project Development for Establishment of a Center of Excellence on Harm Reduction Science.”1 It is unclear whether the funding is connected with Metaform’s project in India or is a separate venture. In May 2019, only US$33,800 had been paid out, with no funding awarded in 2019.12

The Foundation appears to have only been registered the same month it was awarded the grant and has no apparent other income.36 The website given as its address on documents filed with the local government does not work. The address appears to be the Department of Biochemistry at North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) in Shillong. The three trustees are Rajeshwar Nath Sharan, Rajendra Prasad and Prabodh Jhingan. The Trustees appear to be all affiliated with NEHU. Jhingan retired from the university in 2011 after 35 years in its Cultural & Creative Studies Department.37 Sharan is Professor at Department of Biochemistry and Director of Design Innovation Center at the university.38

On 31 May 2019, a paper allegedly written by Rajeshwar Sharan, Konstantinos Farsalinos, and Christopher Russell (Deputy Director of CSUR) and named ‘The Prospects of e-cigarettes in India: Overview of Evidence, Opportunities and Challenges Based on Experiences in Western Countries’ was press released by an Indian media outlet.3940 The key message relayed was that “it is imperative that India learns from the experience of other countries, and provide tobacco users with a less harmful alternative, rather than prohibiting e-cigarettes and missing out on an unprecedented opportunity to help adult smokers in India”.40 That same day, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the government’s research arm, launched its White Paper on e-cigarettes which concluded that the products “have a net negative impact on public health”, and recommended a “complete prohibition on ENDS or e-cigarettes in India in the greater interest of protecting public health” and that the products .41

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