Foundation for a Smoke-Free World: How it Frames Itself
Since its inception in 2017, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’s (FSFW) primary argument has been to convince people that it is both legitimate and independent, despite receiving all of its funding from Philip Morris International (PMI). In order to try and build credibility within the debate on tobacco and health, considerable effort has been spent establishing and re-enforcing this idea. This page sets out the context for that objective, how the Foundation has attempted to achieve it and sets out counter-arguments to critique its approach. In summary: The Foundation has attempted to frame itself as:
- A legitimate creator of independent research
- A supporter of FCTC (including Article 5.3)
- A supporter of social justice issues (empathetic to the smoker, empathetic to farmers and LMICs)
- A supporter of measured regulation (i.e. harm reduction approach to tobacco regulation)
The Foundation has framed some of the public health community and tobacco control measures in these ways:
- Negative characterisation of the public health community
- Negative characterisation of public health measures such as taxation
PMI’s Corporate Plan & Emergence of the Foundation for Smoke-Free World
Although on its website PMI talks about a smoke-free future, PMI’s claims of commitment to harm reduction appear to be fundamentally undermined by its own documents, including its leaked 10 year Corporate Affairs Plan written in 2014 (and published by Reuters in 2018). These documents give an insight into PMI’s long-term plans before the launch of the Foundation in 2017. These internal documents revealed that as recently as 2014, PMI was maintaining its attempts to “maximise commercial opportunities and grow market share” of combustible cigarettes. In 2018 academics highlighted that “PMI has made no concessions to stop promoting combustible cigarettes, and continues its activities opposing FCTC policy implementation.” This concurrent activity by PMI fuels the assessment of PMI’s funding of the FSFW as a conflict of interest.
The leaked documents also reveal PMI was concerned about denormalisation (of both itself and of the tobacco industry more generally) and wanted to be seen as “part of the solution” to the harm caused by smoking, to be a “trusted and indispensable partner” and “to establish the legitimacy of tobacco companies to be part of the regulatory debate on RRPs”. The company outlined its plans to “find allies that cannot be ignored”, and “amplify voices of ‘harm reduction’ supporters vs ‘prohibitionists’”. PMI stated there was a need to use consultants as “door-openers”, and “strategists”, and to create “third party coalition building” to mobilise “an alliance of credible messengers”.
Given that PMI has since pledged 1 billion US dollars to fund the work of the FSFW in 2017, the Foundation may well be interpreted as the embodiment of these very plans.
Indeed, academic critiques of PMI’s involvement in tobacco harm reduction strategies have been made in 2018. Some have argued that PMI is using harm reduction arguments as a way to renormalise both itself and the wider industry, “using strategies that they have used for decades to fracture tobacco control and promote tobacco ‘harm reduction’ in an attempt to renormalize tobacco use” and “undermine government’s tobacco regulatory efforts”. It has been suggested that the Foundation is “an apparent element of PMI’s plan to expand the market for its HTP [heated tobacco products] as well as rehabilitate the company’s reputation”. Others have suggested that “the FSFW may function operationally to advance and amplify tobacco industry messaging and potentially exacerbate conflicts within public health”, and as a “ploy to boost PMI’s corporate image and possibly produce misleading science, while PMI continues to attack effective tobacco control policies and profit from cigarette sales.”
To read a more detailed article on PMI's 10 year plan and the subsequent establishment of the FSFW, see: Big Tobacco is funding the anti-smoking lobby but leaked documents reveal the real reason why.
Framing Itself, Its Science and those Who Oppose It
The following tables provides examples of the above and presents some counter evidence which questions the Foundation’s characterisations of itself and others. This table does not represent an exhaustive list of the arguments the Foundation has made, nor an exhaustive list of counter-arguments.
Table 1: Quotes from the Foundation’s constitutive documents and the McCabe Centre's critique of the Foundation’s claims of independence from PMI
|Statement from Foundation||McCabe Centre critique|
|Certificate of Incorporation
The Foundation’s purpose is to support “research and projects regarding alternatives to cigarettes and other combustible products and how best to achieve a smoke-free world and advance the field of tobacco harm reduction”.
|This leaves no capacity for the Foundation to focus on other tobacco control measures such as “prevention of uptake or cessation of use without replacement by other products”|
|PMI Pledge Agreement with the Foundation
PMI are only obliged to continue to fund the Foundation if it has not “rescinded, amended or modified the Foundation’s Purpose” and has worked “exclusively in accordance with the Foundation’s purpose”
|“In other words, the cost of change – for example to focus on ending smoking other than through alternative products/harm reduction…would be the US960 million” pledged to the Foundation by PMI (or at least its outstanding balance). The pledged amount is therefore tied to the Foundation exclusively working on PMI-specified research priorities.|
“The Certificate of Incorporation and these Bylaws may be amended or repealed and new Certificate of Incorporation or Bylaws may be adopted upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds (⅔) of the Directors then serving entitled to vote.”
|i.e. It is possible for the Foundation to change its research priorities (at the cost of the significant funding pledged from PMI), but only if two-thirds of the Board of Directors backed a decision to do so. This board “will likely be a group inherently unrepresentative of the fields of tobacco control/public health,* as it is hard to imagine that it will include many (or any) individuals unsympathetic to the arrangement Yach has struck with Philip Morris.” A majority vote to change the Foundation’s research priorities is therefore unlikely.|
- Note to Table 1: On 1 February 2018 the Foundation announced its Board of Directors, which, at that time, included individuals (Lisa Gable, Michael Sagner, and Zoe Feldman) promoting collaboration with industry.
|Ways in which the Foundation is framing itself and its role within science and public health||Counter claims/evidence|
|1. As a legitimate creator of independent research|
|The Foundation repeatedly asserts that it acts independently from the tobacco industry, for example:
||A McCabe Centre analysis of the Foundation’s constitutive documents outlined here has highlighted several ways in which it appears that PMI would be able to influence the Foundation’s research agenda and practice.|
|The Foundation used Cohen et al.’s criteria which stipulate the circumstances under which industry-funded models of research may be appropriate, stating that “The Foundation has put those principles and criteria into practice”||However, Cohen et al. themselves have since been clear that the Foundation does not meet the criteria as set out in their paper, “the claim…[that the Foundation addresses their eight criteria]…is incorrect in several instances”, concluding that “due to lack of independence, the potential for conflicts of interest, and clear public relations gains, the Foundation does not represent a tobacco industry-supported funding model that should be acceptable to the research community” 
The Foundation’s very first research output, their ‘State of Smoking’ study was conducted by a public relations firm, Kantar, which has been criticised for its history of working with the tobacco industry whilst simultaneous working for governments and health charities. 
|The Foundation attempted to establish itself as a legitimate tobacco control organisation, through its statement in support of Bloomberg’s Philanthropies 2018 STOP initiative:
“Because of the tobacco industry’s decades of deception, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World wholeheartedly supports the Bloomberg Foundation's Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP) campaign. We applaud the effort to monitor for public deception and "junk science" designed to cover up or mislead the public about the dangers of smoking or alternative products. We encourage independent review of all tobacco control science – including our own—and we encourage all tobacco control researchers to make their raw research data publicly available for secondary analyses, as the Foundation requires of its researchers”
|However, Kelly Henning from Bloomberg Philanthropies made it clear that the new global tobacco industry watchdog was needed exactly because of organisations such as the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World:
“What we face over and over again is this ceaseless pushback by the very well-funded tobacco industry against our work. Most recently, Philip Morris’s newly funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, announced not too many months ago, demonstrated how the tobacco industry uses every imaginable tactic to push back. That announcement made us stop and think that maybe there is more we should be doing to try to counter the tobacco industry’s interference with tobacco control. That was really what led Bloomberg Philanthropies to launch this effort.”
|The Foundation has likened itself to the Truth Initiative:
“The Foundation’s bylaws, certificate of incorporation and funding agreement are unprecedentedly rigid and establish the Foundation as a completely independent organization, akin to the Legacy Foundation (now Truth Initiative).”
|The Truth Initiative is a non-profit tobacco control organisation which was established as part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and US states.
As such, its funding came from successful litigation against the tobacco industry. In contrast, Philip Morris was instrumental in developing the Foundation along with Derek Yach (the Foundation “arose out of extended discussions with Philip Morris International”) and in the middle of 2018 was its sole funder.
|In 2018, the Foundation outlined its plan to fund research centres:
||The tobacco industry has a history of founding research centres within universities, such as the PMI-funded Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research (CNSCR) at Duke University in North Carolina and the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at the University of Nottingham funded by British American Tobacco.
The tobacco industry has also created non-university-affiliated research groups in efforts to build reputability around industry-funded science, such as the Council for Tobacco Research, which was formed in 1954 by US tobacco companies in an attempt to maintain uncertainty around the health harms caused by smoking
|2. As a supporter of the FCTC|
|The Foundation has framed itself as a supporter of (and indeed, champion of) the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control:
||Although the Foundation purports to be a supporter of the FCTC, its funding is provided by Philip Morris International which, according to a 2017 Reuters report, is “running a secretive campaign to block or weaken treaty provisions that save millions of lives by curbing tobacco use” and who describe the FCTC as a “regulatory runaway train” driven by “anti-tobacco extremists.”
The Reuters report argues that specifically, PMI is attempting to undermine Articles 13, 15, 16, and importantly Article 5.3 which outlines the necessity for tobacco control research to be conducted away from the undue influence of the tobacco industry.
In September 2017, the WHO outlined that given that Article 5.3 of the FCTC “obliges Parties to act to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry…[and that]…Governments should not accept financial or other contributions from the tobacco industry or those working to further its interests, such as this Foundation”
The WHO continued by saying that “there are many unanswered questions about tobacco harm reduction, but the research needed to answer these questions should not be funded by tobacco companies….when it comes to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, there are a number of clear conflicts of interest involved with a tobacco company funding a purported health foundation, particularly if it promotes sale of tobacco and other products found in that company’s brand portfolio. WHO will not partner with the Foundation. Governments should not partner with the Foundation and the public health community should follow this lead” 
Further, research suggests that the tobacco industry has used the idea of having common goals with the public health community to its advantage. For example, the concept of harm reduction has been used to “facilitate access to, and dialogue with scientists, public health experts, and policymakers, presenting themselves as ‘partners, rather than adversaries’ who share a common goal”
|3. As a supporter of social justice|
|In several of its blog posts the Foundation emphasises that it is on the side of the smoker:
||Tobacco kills more than 7 million people per year, yet, industry and industry-funded bodies have long since portrayed themselves on the side of the smoker.
For example, the tobacco industry has marketed cigarettes to marginalised groups as a kind of empowerment (for example, marketing menthol cigarettes to African American men “framing blacks’ dignity with their right to consume products and services of quality and creating intersecting agendas by linking smoking to meanings of fairness and upward mobility” and cigarettes conceptualised as symbols of emancipation and ‘torches of freedom’ for women.)
The tobacco industry is known to use front groups to befriend smokers – one tobacco-industry front group FOREST calls itself the ‘voice and friend of the smoker’ 
However, as the WHO pointed out in 2017, “PMI engages in large scale lobbying and prolonged and expensive litigation against evidence-based tobacco control policies such as those found in the WHO FCTC and WHO’s MPOWER tobacco control, which assists in implementation of the WHO FCTC. For example, just last year PMI lost a six year investment treaty arbitration with Uruguay, in which the company spent approximately US$ 24 million to oppose large graphic health warnings and a ban on misleading packaging in a country with fewer than four million inhabitants.”  Such aggressive tactics seem at odds with the idea of a PMI-funded Foundation being on the side of the smoker.
|In several of its blog posts, the Foundation emphasises that it is on the side of the tobacco farmer, and that one of its priorities is to ensure the economic security of low- and middle-income countries:
||In the past the tobacco industry has created front groups, (such as the International Tobacco Growers Association) that appear to represent the needs of worldwide tobacco growers, but are in fact intended to be industry lobbying groups.
Tobacco companies such as BAT are members of the Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT), however, research suggests that tobacco industry involvement in trying to tackle child labour only supports their corporate social responsibility agendas, rather than affecting any real change, and appears to be used to distract public attention away from the low wages and low tobacco prices that the industry pays in countries such as Malawi.
|4. As supporter of measured (rather than onerous) regulation|
|The Foundation also frames itself as a supporter of reasonable levels of regulation:
||Here the main message appears to be that ‘lower-risk products’ should be regulated less heavily than combustible cigarettes, and that minimal regulation is favourable for all. In the past, the tobacco industry has worked to frame itself as a supporter of measured regulation and has often lobbied for “pre-emptive legislation that protects its own interests”
The Foundation’s statements echo PMI’s own views on a ‘common-sense approach’ to regulation. On PMI’s website they state that ‘sensible, risk-based regulation of smoke-free products, combined with further restrictions on cigarettes, can help address the harm caused by smoking more effectively - and faster - than plain packaging and other traditional regulatory measures”
|The Foundation also appears to frame itself as a knowledge broker, in order to support cross-industry drives for regulatory change:
||The tobacco industry, in the past, has been adept at recruiting other industries (often through the use of third-party groups, such as the Risk Assessment Forum) to gain support for changes to regulatory architectures. For example:
|Ways the Foundation is framing the public health community and public health measures||Counter claims/evidence|
|1. Negative characterisation of the public health community|
|The Foundation uses several arguments to negatively frame those who question its legitimacy and the effectiveness of harm reduction technology:
||The tobacco industry often attempts to shift arguments towards more emotive ones such as framing public health advocates as the enemy of industry and free enterprise, and denigrating members of the tobacco control community.
For example, attempts to discredit non-industry scientists who produce unfavourable research have been documented, such as academics being professionally attacked for speaking up about second-hand smoke and others labelled ‘scientific extremists.
|2. Negative characterisation of public health measures other than harm reduction strategies|
|The Foundation appears to frame policy interventions which restrict the activity of the tobacco industry and act at a whole population level as ineffective:
“we have created smoke-free environments, mandated bigger health warnings, made cigarettes more expensive, and restricted advertising and marketing. Yet still, one billion people continue to smoke … there seems to be a disconnect between the development of policy and the benefit many smokers receive from policy” 
|The tobacco control measures that the Foundation cites as ineffective here (smoke-free environments, health warnings, regulations on advertising, higher taxes) are known to be effective 
Also, the Foundation fails to acknowledge here that the tobacco industry have actively and aggressively fought against such policy interventions. These factors appear to explain why, of the estimated 8.3 million tobacco-related deaths occurring by 2030, 6.8 million will be in low- and middle-income countries (where the tobacco industry is successfully fighting tobacco control policies). 
|The Foundation also appears to frame taxes on tobacco products as discriminatory:
||The article referenced by the Foundation in this blog post was written by Christopher Snowdon, member of the tobacco industry-funded, right-wing think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs.
This is an example of the Foundation amplifying tobacco industry-funded voices without being transparent about their industry ties. Although the Foundation posits that taxes are discriminatory, tobacco itself is a health inequality issue, and socioeconomic inequities in tobacco consumption in Europe, for example, are “large and widening”. Further it appears that the tobacco industry has actually purposefully targeted working class young adults, seeing them as a “critical market segment to promote growth”
An increase in taxes is a proven method for reducing harms associated with tobacco use since “tobacco tax increases are the most effective and inexpensive way of reducing tobacco smoking prevalence, consumption initiation and inequalities in smoking”.
- Foundation for a Smoke-Free World
- Philip Morris International
- Influencing Science
- Influencing Science: Funding Scientists
- In 2018, the Foundation funded the Scholarship Programme of the Global Forum on Nicotine
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