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NOT PEER REVIEWED
Mr. Clive Bates’ response to our article, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and healthy Indigenous futures: an oxymoron?, indicates the need to clarify several issues. In this response, we emphasise two key issues:
1. Organisations claiming to serve the good of the public, but who receive direct or third-party funding from the tobacco industry, are faced with serious conflicts of interest (COI); and
2. harm reduction is only part of a comprehensive approach to reducing commercial tobacco use.
As Indigenous peoples, we have an inherent responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples now and for our future generations. The tobacco industry poses, and has posed in the past, a significant threat to our health and wellbeing. Therefore, we are deeply concerned about the Philip Morris-funded Foundation focusing on Indigenous peoples.
Philip Morris International, the Philip Morris Funded-Foundation and the Centre for Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty and Smoking
Mr. Bates states that “There is no credible analysis (anywhere) of the actual, rather than the imagined, relationship between PMI and the Foundation for a Smokefree World”. This is incorrect 1-5. Researchers in journals such as The Lancet and Tobacco Control have analyzed key documents from the Foundation, including tax returns and bylaws that highlighted numerous relationship issues and conflicts of interest 1-5.
Addressing conflicts of interest is fundamentally important for ethical practice. Conflicts of interest are commonly described in ethical principles, including specific Indigenous codes 6-8. The Tri-Council Policy Statement describes a COI as:
“when activities or situations place an individual or institution in a real, potential or perceived conflict between the duties or responsibilities related to research, and personal, institutional or other interest. These interests include, but are not limited to, business, commercial or financial interests pertaining to the institution and/or the individual, their family members, friends, or their former, current or prospective professional associates.” 6, page 93
A clear COI is created when the tobacco industry’s role is purported to support health research, while also profiting from the sale and promotion of tobacco products–all while smoking continues to be identified as the single greatest avoidable cause of death and disease worldwide 9 10. In other words, there is a COI when health professionals accept funding from the tobacco industry 9 10. This COI was also identified in the United Nations General Assembly, when they recognised the “fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health” 11, page 5. The Foundation was launched with a 12-year funding commitment from PMI of $1 billion 12. There has been financial dependence on PMI as well as conflicting commercial and business interests 2-4 12. Further, analysis of the Foundation’s tax return indicated that the Foundation remains solely funded by PMI. 3 The Foundation and subsequently the Centre have received PMI funding. As Yach and Bettcher stated in an earlier time, “tobacco is at the centre of the contradictions... …It is where the goals of a set of multinationals are clearly in conflict with public health and welfare.” 13, page 6
The COI, actual and perceived, and the inherent conflict of duty can manifest in additional ways:
1) the PMI-funded Foundation’s harm reduction role serves PMI’s agenda of moving into the Alternative Nicotine Devices market, while PMI continues to promote and sell tobacco 14. Therefore, the Foundation serves PMI’s Alternative Nicotine Devices market aspirations 14-16.
2) The Foundation serves a public relations role for PMI. The PMI-funded Foundation’s mission of progressing toward ending smoking through health, science, and technology for smoking cessation and tobacco harm reduction tools, supports PMI’s corporate responsibility agenda. Therefore, it could be argued that the Foundation contributes a veneer of credibility to PMI. This veneer provides public relations opportunities for PMI to frame themselves as “good” global corporate citizens 17-19. Further, Legg et al. 3 provide additional analysis of the relationship between PMI and the Foundation, highlighting that the Foundation’s expenditure on public relations was more than their expenditures on research, challenging the Foundation’s purported image as a “scientific body” and supporting the growing consensus that they serve as a PMI public relations function 3 20.
As Mr. Bates highlights, the tobacco industry continues to directly and indirectly fund foundations, centers, and researchers. Funding foundations, centers, and researchers can be used in its effort to gain credibility 3 21. The tobacco industry has marketed global corporate responsibility with attractive research funding and courted prominent scientists. This has included epidemiologists including Dr. Ernst Wynder, an early proponent of tobacco harm reduction 17, and Dr. Alvan R. Feinstein, editor of the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 18. Feinstein critiqued the “atmosphere [in which a tobacco industry] consultant’s stature, credibility, and integrity become instantly impugned and tarnished by the depravity of associating with the tobacco ‘bad guy’” 18. However, Feinstein failed to declare that he, too, was a tobacco industry consultant 22-24. The Foundation’s director has also previously detailed such industry strategies as “buying scientists” to serve commercial objectives and undermine effective tobacco control 25. In 2007, Yach and Bettcher stated, “As the vector of the tobacco epidemic, the tobacco industry's actions fall far outside of the boundaries of global corporate responsibility” 13, page 207.
The tobacco industry has a long and productive history of colluding in covering up, denying, confusing, and questioning the science on smoking and smoking-related morbidity and mortality 26. Given the long and comprehensive history of the tobacco industry using public relations firms and scientists in its manipulation of research 27 28, the connections between the Foundation and bodies with long-standing tobacco industry links continues to raise significant concerns about the legitimacy of the PMI-funded Foundation, the Centre, and their research messages.
3) the Foundation and its protagonists create divisions both real and perceived. For example, the Foundation and its protagonists can frame institutions and various peoples as “for” or “against” harm reduction in a binary fashion, but in fact there are many aspects and diverse views on harm reduction 29-32. The arguments about who to trust and who researchers should accept funding from can dilute the health sectors’ efforts, sow confusion and doubt, and generate opportunities to promote the tobacco industry agenda 16 33. As outlined, this echoes a common colonisation tool - divide and conquer. 10 34 This credibility dilemma over who the public should engage with, believe, and trust creates a false dichotomy of “us vs. them”. In reality, views lie on a diverse continuum. Such divisions, real or perceived, do not help progress constructive debate about reducing tobacco use or tobacco related harms, and disrupt knowledge production processes in public health and medicine. 28 Indigenous processes are about inclusivity and our right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. 35 We want to have fora that promote that standard, where different perspectives can be heard and discussed free from externally imposed agendas. 32 35
Harm reduction and a comprehensive approach to reducing tobacco use among Indigenous peoples
The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) 32, and others 29-31, have outlined the need for a comprehensive and multifaceted systems approach to reducing commercial tobacco use, including preventing tobacco uptake. 29-32 A comprehensive systems approach emphasises that there is no single solution to addressing smoking disparities; by definition, the solutions are complex. 9 30-32 In addition, the FCTC guiding principles recognize the particular needs and challenges experienced by Indigenous peoples, and the importance of facilitating Indigenous participation in developing, implementing, and evaluating tobacco control. 32 Indigenous peoples should be able to engage in tobacco reduction debates, including about forms of harm reduction, free from external or tobacco industry agendas. 32 35 While Mr. Bates states, “There is a far more imaginative way to see the Centre, the Foundation and PMI”, our interests are clear. We are interested in reducing tobacco use, and consequently tobacco-related death and disease. We are interested in improving our health and wellbeing. “For the tobacco epidemic, the vector is not a virus, bacterium, or other microorganism – it is an industry and its business strategy.” 36, page 71
There is a need for evidence-based debate to reduce tobacco-related death and disease, and we encourage constructive debate that strengthens and advances tobacco control programs and policies. But this science must be ethical and independent from the tobacco industry. 2 5 25 27 28 32 37 We must reinforce the calls from WHO, the public health community, and Indigenous peoples to reject collaborations with the Foundation 3 10 20 32 38. We encourage centers and researchers not to accept Foundation funds, and we urge the Foundation to return its funding to PMI. Tobacco-related death and disease is completely preventable 9, and the “health and well-being of Indigenous peoples is too critical, the promise of future Indigenous generations too important.” 10, page 3
1. Chapman S. Tobacco giant wants to eliminate smoking: British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 2017.
2. Daube M, Moodie R, McKee M. Towards a smoke-free world? Philip Morris International’s new Foundation is not credible. The Lancet 2017;390(10104):1722-24.
3. Legg T, Peeters S, Chamberlain P, et al. The Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World: tax return sheds light on funding activities. The Lancet doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(19)31347-9
4. van der Eijk Y, Bero LA, Malone RE. Philip Morris International-funded ‘Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’: analysing its claims of independence. Tobacco Control 2018 doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2018-054278
5. J. Liberman. The new Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World: independent or not?, McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer, 30 January 2018, accessed June 2019 2018 [
6. Canadian Tri-Council. Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS2): Ottawa, ON: Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and …, 2010.
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8. Ermine W, Sinclair R, Jeffery B. The ethics of research involving Indigenous peoples: Indigenous Peoples' Health Research Centre Saskatoon, Saskatchewan 2004.
9. Health UDo, Services H. The health consequences of smoking—50 years of progress: a report of the Surgeon General: Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease …, 2014.
10. Waa A, Robson B, Gifford H, et al. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and healthy Indigenous futures: an oxymoron? Tobacco Control 2019:tobaccocontrol-2018-054792. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2018-054792
11. Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, A/RES/66/2 (24 January 2012), para. 38; 2012.
12. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. Media advisory: Foundation forming to eliminate smoking worldwide, 2017.
13. Yach D, Bettcher D. Globalisation of tobacco industry influence and new global responses. Tobacco Control 2000;9(2):206-16. doi: 10.1136/tc.9.2.206
14. Philip Morris International. Philip Morris International, 2018 Annual Report, 2018.
15. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. Our Vision: Foundation for a Smoke-Free World; 2018 [Available from: https://www.smokefreeworld.org/our-vision accessed 18 September 2018.
16. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. Strategic Plan 2019-2021 The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World: Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, 2018.
17. Fields N, Chapman S. Chasing Ernst L Wynder: 40 years of Philip Morris’ efforts to influence a leading scientist. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2003;57(8):571-78.
18. Mukherjee A, Ekanayake E. Epistemic communities and the global alliance against tobacco marketing. Thunderbird International Business Review 2009;51(3):207-18.
19. Malone RE. On tobacco industry cultural appropriation. Tobacco Control 2009;18(6):425-26. doi: 10.1136/tc.2009.034488
20. Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control. An open letter to the Director General and Executive Board of the World Health Organization, 2019.
21. Smith KE, Fooks G, Collin J, et al. “Working the system”—British American tobacco's influence on the European union treaty and its implications for policy: an analysis of internal tobacco industry documents. PLoS Medicine 2010;7(1):e1000202.
22. Nixon L, Mejia P, Cheyne A, et al. Big Soda’s long shadow: news coverage of local proposals to tax sugar-sweetened beverages in Richmond, El Monte and Telluride. Critical Public Health 2015;25(3):333-47.
23. Etter JF. Secondhand smoke in Geneva, 1996–2006: changes in exposure, opinions, and workplace smoking bans in the absence of national legislation. International journal of occupational and environmental health 2009;15(2):159-65.
24. Dockrell M. Eye and heart at mortal war: coronaries and controversy in a smoke-free Scotland. Expert review of pharmacoeconomics & outcomes research 2009;9(1):23-27.
25. Yach D, Bialous SA. Junking science to promote tobacco. American journal of public health 2001;91(11):1745-48.
26. Francey N, Chapman S. “Operation Berkshire”: the international tobacco companies' conspiracy. BMJ: British Medical Journal 2000;321(7257):371.
27. Bero LA. Tobacco industry manipulation of research. Public health reports 2005;120(2):200.
28. Brandt AM. Inventing conflicts of interest: a history of tobacco industry tactics. American journal of public health 2012;102(1):63-71.
29. Carson KV, Brinn MP, Labiszewski NA, et al. Interventions for tobacco use prevention in Indigenous youth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012(8)
30. Chamberlain C, Perlen S, Brennan S, et al. Evidence for a comprehensive approach to Aboriginal tobacco control to maintain the decline in smoking: an overview of reviews among Indigenous peoples. Systematic reviews 2017;6(1):135.
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38. World Health Organization. WHO Statement on Philip Morris funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World: WHO Geneva, 2017.
NOT PEER REVIEWED
I hope that Tobacco Control will offer a right of reply to the target of this one-sided criticism. In the meantime, let me put a few points to the authors:
1. There is no credible analysis (anywhere) of the actual, rather than the imagined, relationship between PMI and the Foundation for a Smokefree World (FSFW - ‘the Foundation’) that suggests PMI exerts material control over the Foundation. Its basic legal documents suggest otherwise. Nor have the authors explained why the Foundation's goal of ending smoking within a generation is somehow a bad thing or insincere.
2. Nor is there a credible assessment of the relationship between the Foundation and the new Centre for Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty and Smoking (the Centre) that is the subject of criticism in this paper. There are two degrees of separation between the Centre and PMI, and the philosophy of the Foundation is to support centres of excellence and to leave them to get on with their work. The Centre has an excellent (Māori) leader and is quite capable of asserting its independence. How it would somehow do the bidding of PMI is not explained by the authors.
3. The authors dismiss the Centre’s focus on ‘harm reduction’ and instead emphasise: “the need to shift attention away from individuals to the true source of the problem: commercial tobacco and the companies that sell and promote it.”. While I share the sentiment about individual smoking cessat...
3. The authors dismiss the Centre’s focus on ‘harm reduction’ and instead emphasise: “the need to shift attention away from individuals to the true source of the problem: commercial tobacco and the companies that sell and promote it.”. While I share the sentiment about individual smoking cessation, I believe their proposed alternative problem-definition is overly simplistic and that it will not serve smokers of any ethnicity well. The appropriate approach is to take a ‘system view’, in which the system includes individuals, community, tobacco industry and supply chain, technology and innovation, information, regulation, taxation and enforcement - and to recognise this system is undergoing a significant disruption. A focus on ‘harm reduction’ should not be misunderstood as an individualist perspective. It requires careful engineering of incentives through ‘risk-proportionate’ policies that bear down hard on the cigarette trade but encourage smokers to switch to lower risk products. It is not an alternative to conventional MPOWER techniques, but a way of widening and improving the responses available to smokers.
4. No analysis is provided of the Centre's mission or work programme and how this will, somehow, harm the interests of indigenous people. No consideration is given to the implications of NOT having the Centre, of NOT doing its work and NOT producing its intellectual property. What is gained by NOT trying to reduce the smoking-related harms among indigenous people? Why is it better for this money to be spent elsewhere or returned to PMI's shareholders than spent on improving the life-chances of New Zealand’s indigenous populations?
5. Instead of dispassionate analysis of the Centre's work programme and the Foundation's aims, an array of irrelevant arguments and innuendo about the original funder is deployed in an effort to discredit the Centre and its work. It amounts to a superficial analysis of business motivations and the incentives of tobacco firms and fails to grasp how these have been fundamentally changed by the ongoing technology disruption created by new forms of non-combustible products. Yet, that is precisely why such a centre has such an important role in the rapidly evolving environment.
6. Indigenous people's smoking rates in New Zealand remain far higher than the European origin population (daily smoking prevalence was 31.2% among Māoris compared to 13.5% among the European population in 2018). Clearly, the standard tobacco control playbook has not been a conspicuous success in this population, yet Māoris suffer a disproportionate burden from the key tobacco policy: tobacco taxes set at a high level. Māoris account for 26% of national expenditure on tobacco, but only account for 15% of the adult population and around 70% of their expenditure is tax (approximately $NZ 700m). The harm reduction approach should also be seen as a way to mitigate the economic inequities that arise from tobacco use and tobacco taxation - there are large savings to smokers who switch from smoking to vaping.
7. Given the relative failure of conventional tobacco control in reducing smoking prevalence in indigenous populations, surely it makes sense to try new approaches - including the 'harm reduction' approach that aims help smokers switch from combustible to non-combustible nicotine products. For many, this will be an easier transition than complete cessation because it involves giving up less (i.e. it does not involve giving up nicotine, sensory impacts, behavioural ritual etc) but for almost the same health gain.
8. There is some support for this in New Zealand’s parliament. A joint House of Representatives Māori Affairs and Health Committee inquiry noted in December 2018 that New Zealand was off-track to meet the Aotearoa 2025 goal and that regularising the market for vaping products should be recognised as part of the policy response:
"We recommend that legislation be enacted to recognise and regulate vaping and e-cigarettes as a pathway to help smokers to quit".
9. Emotive rhetoric about a 'new colonisation' may help to fire up activists but it adds little of practical value to the debate. Nicotine is one of several drugs in widespread and longstanding use in most societies. As a drug, nicotine is relatively benign and does not cause intoxication, overdose, violence, accidents, sexual vulnerability, job losses, family breakdown etc. We now have an opportunity to address its ‘dirty’ delivery system, the inhalation of tobacco smoke, and so to reduce the great harm that arises from how nicotine is administered. How does a Centre trying to reduce smoking-related harm among indigenous people colonise anyone?
10. There is a far more imaginative way to see the Centre, the Foundation and PMI. This is how I see it: due to a major technology disruption in the consumer nicotine marketplace, some tobacco companies are now repositioning themselves in a way that will be beneficial for public health despite their ongoing participation in the cigarette business. A valuable by-product of that has been the release of $1 billion to support research and programmes that reduce smoking and related harms and facilitate a transition from combustible nicotine products to non-combustible. Committed public health advocates and academics should at least keep an open mind about this, while others seize the opportunity to do good and reduce harm with these funds, especially in disadvantaged communities. In this case, the Centre and its leadership have done exactly that and, in my view, they should be given time and some encouragement to prove their worth to indigenous communities.
Note: I have no relationship with the Centre, the Foundation or PMI, and I do not speak on their behalf or at their behest. The views stated here are my own. I have been a public health advocate for tobacco harm reduction since 1998.