In September 2017, one of the major tobacco companies and maker of Marlboro, Philip Morris International Inc (PMI), had announced it was allocating $1 billion to set up a foundation that would fight smoking, and then dispense a further $80 million yearly towards the project for the following 12 years.
Naturally from the get go, many anti-smoking experts were sceptical that the aim of such a motion was nothing but an effort to ensure the visibility and success of Philip Morris’ harm reduction product, iQOS, and promote any other Big Tobacco agendas.
Why an anti-smoking activist accepted the role of president
Yach regarded this initiative as an opportunity to use the resources available to the tobacco industry, to help counteract the damage it has caused.
On the other end of the stick, Derek Yach a renowned anti-tobacco activist who had played a main role in the enactment of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005, had (to shock of most) accepted the position of President of the Smoke-Free Foundation.
He had explained he regarded this initiative as an opportunity to use the resources available to the tobacco industry, to help counteract the damage it has caused. He rightfully added that despite believing in the provisions of the FCTC in preventing people from becoming smokers, he doesn’t think it has done much in assisting existing smokers to quit.
“To actually accelerate the decline in the billion smokers, we need to have better cessation, harm reduction and better product regulation,” he said at the time. “And, I think those elements, I do not think have got the energy that we actually require.”
Meanwhile, a former employee is suing the foundation on grounds that she has been forced out of her job, after questioning why vaping was being promoted as a tobacco reduction aid. Of course, one needs to consider that many may try taking advantage of the general perception of the tobacco industry as the ultimate villain.
Lourdes Liz, who until February last year worked as the foundation’s director of social media, filed a lawsuit in a New York court, alleging that her former employer had carried out activities “designed to increase the profits of and to do the bidding of” Philip Morris and its former parent company, Altria.
Liz insists that Yach had together with advertising firm Ogilvy, proposed campaigns featuring Instagram influencers performing vaping tricks, such as blowing bubbles. The campaign, which never went live, was “clearly targeted at teenagers and adolescents.” Liz added that the foundation’s positive attitude to vaping as a way to reduce smoking served the tobacco groups, which have in recent years invested heavily in smoke-free nicotine delivery products.
The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World said it had not yet filed a formal response to the complaint, but added it intended to “deny the material allegations and defend against it vigorously”. “The Foundation strongly condemns vaping among youth and teens, just as we condemn smoking among youth and teens,” it said, adding that it was “committed to helping adult smokers quit smoking or switch to tobacco harm reduction products”.
In line with previous comments by Yach, the foundation insists that while it receives yearly funding from Philip Morris it remains fully independent from the tobacco group and Altria. Moreover, the foundation is no longer working with Ogilvy.
Read Further: FT