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Tobacco money and public health
  1. Neil Collishaw
  1. Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, Ottawa, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Neil Collishaw, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, 1226A Wellington Street, Ottawa K1Y 3A1, Canada; ncollishaw{at}

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I can buy the Salvation Army. Andrew Undershaft, weapons manufacturer.’

From the play Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw

Over 100 years ago, George Bernard Shaw, speaking through his protagonists, weapons manufacturer Andrew Undershaft and Undershaft's daughter Salvation Army Major Barbara, explored the uneasy relationship that existed, and exists still, between ill-gotten gains and the public good.1 Now, a century later, a similar uneasy relationship exists. But this time it is not cannons versus religion, but tobacco versus public health. Nor is it biting satire sprung from the imagination of a playwright. It is real-life drama now unfolding in Latin America.

Authors Burch, Wander and Collin2 are to be congratulated for lifting the corporate veil to reveal at least some of the workings of the enterprises and philanthropy of one of the world's richest men: Carlos Slim Hélu of Mexico. He is also one of the world's big tobacco barons: his principal fortune was made in tobacco, his other successful enterprises were fuelled by tobacco money, and tobacco money is at the root of his health philanthropy. Carlos Slim owns 20% of the Mexican tobacco company CIGATAM, a Philip Morris subsidiary and he has profited handsomely from other investments in Philip Morris, where he now sits on the Board of Directors.

Bluntly put, Carlos Slim has used his telecommunications and investment enterprises to funnel tobacco money through to his philanthropic health institute, …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

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