World: Cigarette Firms Tried to Foil WHO, Say Investigators

Publisher Name: 
Wall Street Journal

World Health Organization investigators say Philip Morris Cos. and other
multinational cigarette makers worked for years to discredit the agency and
thwart its efforts to curb smoking around the globe.

The Geneva-based public-health arm of the United Nations is expected to
make the investigators' findings public Wednesday as it moves to
strengthen its hand ahead of the October start of formal negotiations for
an international tobacco-control treaty.

Tobacco Tactics

WHO says big tobacco companies tried to undermine the agency.

This organization has extraordinary influence on government and consumers
and we must find a way to diffuse this and reorient their activities to their
prescribed mandate. In addition, we need to think through how we could use our food companies, size, technology, and capability with governments by helping them with their food problems and give us a more balanced profile with the government than we now have against WHO's powerful influence.

-- Excerpt from a memo by Geoffrey C. Bible, now chairman of Philip Morris, about the company's 'Boca Raton Action Plan.'

A portion of a draft of the WHO report charges that tobacco companies
engaged in a "systematic effort," dating back decades, "to undermine and
subvert WHO's tobacco-control efforts." The report's authors also say that
cigarette makers tried to "distort the results of important scientific
studies on tobacco" and get the WHO's budget reduced.

'The Scale and the Intensity'

"What is clear now is the scale and the intensity of the tactics of the
industry's campaign" to undercut the WHO, said Thomas Zeltner, director
general of the Swiss Office of Public Health and chairman of the committee
that conducted the investigation. In an interview, Dr. Zeltner also said
the tobacco companies had "compromised the integrity of the decision-making
process" inside the organization.

One of the elements of the tobacco companies' broad-based efforts,
according to the partial draft, was the "Boca Raton Action Plan" devised
by top Philip Morris executives, including Geoffrey C. Bible, who is now
the company's chairman and chief executive officer, at a conference in
Florida in the late 1980s.

In a December 1988 memo stamped "confidential," Mr. Bible, at the time
president of the company's international tobacco operations, outlined the
topics discussed at the Florida meeting and wrote that the WHO has
"extraordinary influence on government and consumers" and that the
company "must find a way to diffuse this and reorient their activities to
their prescribed mandate."

'Powerful Influence'

Mr. Bible also wrote that leaders of the company, which owns Kraft
Foods and other food businesses around the world, "need to think through
how we could use our food companies" to help governments "with their
food problems and give us a more balanced profile with the government
than we now have against WHO's powerful influence."

In subsequent progress reports, Philip Morris executives wrote that the
company "will not be successful unless our strategy also attacks the
issues/programmes" of the WHO. One memo recommended identifying
countries targeted by WHO antismoking efforts "and, where it makes
sense from a market standpoint, allocate the resources necessary to stop
them in their tracks."

The memos outline various ways Philip Morris could try to restrict funding
for the WHO. One noted that the WHO receives significant amounts of
outside money and that "there are a variety of avenues which should be
explored with respect to containing funding from private sources." Another
memo suggested lobbying governments "to challenge the use of
international funds by the WHO on health-advocacy programmes."

David Davies, vice president for the European Union operations of Philip
Morris's international tobacco business, said in a statement, "Some
company documents that refer to WHO, going back many decades, do
not reflect an approach that today we would adopt with WHO." He
added, "They are the product of a polarized and unproductive environment
in which few solutions were sought and conflict prevailed over consensus.
Philip Morris regrets this."

The company also said that "inferences of improper influence" over the
WHO "are not accurate," and that no WHO initiatives were "prevented or
obstructed" by Philip Morris.

The WHO report discusses events that occurred through the early 1990s
and mentions other major tobacco companies in addition to Philip Morris.
The report's authors relied heavily on the reams of internal
tobacco-company documents unearthed as a result of lawsuits filed against
the industry by U.S. states. Dr. Zeltner said researchers were handicapped
by the fact that cigarette makers' actions toward the WHO weren't a focus
of the state litigation. "We only have a limited view of what really
happened," Dr. Zeltner said.

Pesticide Evaluation

The WHO report also says a number of people with links to tobacco
companies were involved in WHO decision-making on tobacco-related
matters, unbeknownst to the organization. In one instance, a Spanish
scientific consultant worked as an adviser to the WHO evaluating
pesticides used on tobacco plants while at the same time receiving funding
from the industry. Others with links to cigarette manufacturers were
involved in shaping WHO strategy as well as the organization's
interpretation of scientific research, Dr. Zeltner said.

The draft report goes on to say that the "tobacco industry apparently was
instrumental" in the formation of the International Tobacco Growers
Association as a "front" for its own lobbying activities. "For all
industries, tobacco included, it's part of their business to lobby and influence organizations that are limiting their activities," said Dr. Zeltner. "But I think in some areas there is no doubt they crossed the line."

The WHO's director general, Gro Harlem Brundtland, has made tobacco
control a top priority. She is pushing for a strict new global treaty that
could impose tough limits on tobacco advertising and marketing and
contain provisions covering taxation, smuggling, and crop substitution for
tobacco-dependent economies.

Formal negotiations on the treaty, known as the Framework Convention
on Tobacco Control, are set to begin in mid-October. Before they start,
the WHO will conduct two days of public hearings in Geneva. That will be
the tobacco industry's first chance to present its case to the treaty

AMP Section Name:Tobacco
  • 109 Tobacco