Philip Morris International (PMI) and the PMI-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) have hijacked public health’s smoke-free terminology to detract from the global tobacco control treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). PMI claims it wants a smoke-free future, but it’s one built on smokers shifting to heated tobacco products (HTP) and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) such as e-cigarettes, purportedly less harmful alternative products, rather than quitting altogether. This is a tactic to promote the tobacco industry’s new products, sustain tobacco company profits, and reposition the industry within the tobacco control policy space.
Since January 2019, PMI-funded FSFW has filed for trademark of “[Smoke-Free Index]” in the US, EU, UK, and Switzerland. Then, in March 2019, it announced it had appointed a research company, Euromonitor, and a think tank, SustainAbility, to develop “the first ever Smoke-Free Index”,[i] which would evaluate actions of 15 tobacco companies to shift from cigarettes to alternative “smoke-free” products. Given PMI’s aggressive promotion of its HTPs and ENDS, this report could well be an annual PR gimmick to endorse PMI and its new products.
In so doing, FSFW has misappropriated SEATCA’s Smoke-Free Index to promote PMI’s own corporate strategy and vested interests. Considering that SEATCA’s Smoke-Free Index was first published in 2016, FSFW’s use and trademarking of the term “Smoke-Free Index” is misleading, potentially confusing, and tantamount to wrongful appropriation of SEATCA’s intellectual property.
News of FSFW’s Smoke-Free Index has been met with skepticism by tobacco control campaigners and financial investors,[ii] and government and civil society rejection has led to the cancellation of regional dialogues organized in Turkey and Thailand by SustainAbility intended to inform this copycat index.
The international public health community supports SEATCA’s Smoke-Free Index and rejects the PMI-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.
[i] Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. Leading global research firms selected to create the first-ever smoke-free index, 18 March 2019. Available at: https://www.smokefreeworld.org/newsroom/leading-global-research-firms-selected-create-first-ever-smoke-free-index
[ii] Milburn, E. (14 May 2019). Planned smoke-free index met with skepticism from campaigners and investors. Responsible Investor. Available at: https://www.responsible-investor.com/home/article/fsfw/
Organizations and Individual Supporters:
- Action on Smoking & Health, USA
- Airspace Action on Smoking and Health, Canada
- Austrian Council on Smoking and Health
- Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, USA
- Cancer Council Australia
- Comité Nationale Contre Le Tabagisme (National Tobacco Control Committee), France
- Corporate Accountability International, USA
- Department of Health, Philippines
- Framework Convention Alliance
- French Alliance against Tobacco and French National Committee against Smoking, Prof. Gerard Dubois, Honorary Chairman, France
- Healthbridge Viet Nam
- International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, France
- Japan Society for Tobacco Control
- Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control & Health
- Ministry of Health, National Tobacco Control Committee, Lao PDR
- OxySuisse, Switzerland
- Pratyasha Anti-Drugs Club, Helal Ahmed,Secretary General, Bangladesh
- Smoke Free Partnership, EU
- Society for Alternative Media and Research, Pakistan
- Tobacco Free Portfolios, Australia
- Dr. Widyatuti Soerojo, Indonesia
- World Heart Federation, Switzerland
Below are excerpts from the statements of support by the international public health community:
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH US), USA
“Philip Morris International (PMI) has closely watched the public health community for decades and is always looking for ways to counteract and undermine our work. PMI funding a new entity, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, is their most recent attempt to hijack and destabilize civil society’s work, so it’s no surprise they would turn to patent lawyers to look for ways to undermine existing, respected reporting mechanisms like SEATCA’s Smoke-Free Index.”
Airspace Action on Smoking and Health, Canada
“Airspace Action on Smoking and Health — the world’s leading ALL-VOLUNTEER anti-tobacco/anti-nicotine organization, based in Vancouver, Canada — is extremely proud and honoured to support the current campaign by the South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) to completely shut down one of Philip Morris International’s newest front groups/scams (the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World)…specifically, the FSFW’s recent efforts to trademark the title “Smoke-Free Index”, which SEATCA first published in 2016…before FSFW was even established!”
Errol E. Povah
Austrian Council on Smoking and Health
“The Smoke-Free Index was developed by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) and has nothing to do with the fake index given by the same name by Philip Morris International (PMI). The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) funded solely by PMi hijacked the term “smoke-free” to make the public believe that PMI products like IQOS are equivalent to smoke-free.”
Prim. Kurt Aigner, M.D., FCCP
Prof. Manfred Neuberger, M.D.
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, USA
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids stands with the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) in expressing outrage that the ‘Foundation for a Smoke-free World’ has co-opted SEATCA’s important and long-standing Smoke-Free Index in a move designed to confuse decision-makers and the public. Sadly, it is no surprise that the foundation – an entity entirely funded by tobacco giant Philip Morris International – has chosen to co-opt the work of a respected health organization. This move fits the pattern of an organization whose purpose increasingly appears to be a public relations stunt to distract from proven public health solutions and help Philip Morris International undermine global efforts to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use.
The Philip Morris International-funded Foundation for a Smoke-free World has convinced two additional organizations to help in developing its dishonest version of the Smoke-Free Index: EuroMonitor and SustainAbility. In a normal world of respect for others’ ideas and deference to organizations like SEATCA who have dedicated years of skilled effort to global public health, it would be unimaginable for an organization purporting to be a research foundation to aggressively take over the title and focus of SEATCA’s Smoke-Free Index. However, in the current world in which Philip Morris International – the company that is a major cause of the world’s eight million annual deaths from tobacco-related disease – is actively trying to convince policy makers and the public that it is concerned with health, the most that can be hoped for is that groups like EuroMonitor and SustainAbility will protect their own credibility by ending their partnerships with the Foundation for a Smoke-free World, and that other groups will refuse to work with the foundation when it comes calling.
Director of International Communications
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Cancer Council Australia
“On behalf of Cancer Council Australia I am writing in support of your campaign to call out the absurdity of Phillip Morris funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’s hijacking of SEATCA’s Smoke-Free Index. SEATCA first published the index in 2016 and is at the forefront of confronting industry tactics within the region. We offer our support for you in countering this clear appropriation of SEATCA’s intellectual property by an organisation funded entirely by Phillip Morris. Good luck with your efforts to counter this blatant attempt to take what is rightfully yours.
Professor Sanchia Aranda AM
Chief Executive Officer
Comité Nationale Contre Le Tabagisme (CNCT), France
“The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, funded by the tobacco company Philip Morris, hijack the “Smoke-Free Index” intended to measure the implementation of one of the measures of the WHO treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, in order to protect from exposure to passive smoking. As early as 2016, even before the establishment of this foundation by the tobacco company, a publication was produced by civil society organizations: SEATCA, member of the Framework Convention Alliance attached to the treaty, using this index. The current goal of the tobacco company is clearly to spread its own messages by usurping this indicator, deliberately deceiving health actors and the general public, who may legitimately believe that these messages come from an independent body. The SEATCA alliance warns about these risks and the CNCT is particularly supportive of this warning process, particularly for health professionals.
This intentional hijacking of the term “smokefree” by both PMI and the FSFW is not only unseemly, but also deceptive and confusing, because the term “smoke-free” has long been used by the global tobacco control community and recognized by the public at large as referring to tobacco use, and most public health officials consider e-cigarettes and HTPs as new ways of smoking. Clearly, PMI continues to be a big part of the tobacco problem.”
Corporate Accountability International (CAI), USA
“Philip Morris International (PMI) has long tried to disrupt the vital role the global tobacco control community plays in curbing the tobacco epidemic. In 2017, Reuters exposed PMI’s massive clandestine campaign1 to undermine global public health policymaking. The investigation revealed internal documents naming SEATCA directly as an organization the industry found particularly concerning to its tobacco operations. One such document even states, “we’re still building ASEAN-wide counterweights to SEATCA, the major ATO [anti-tobacco organization] in Asia.” A central and important component of SEATCA’s global tobacco control monitoring has been its Smoke-Free Index, first published in 2016.”
Associate Campaign Director, Corporate Accountability
Department of Health (DOH), Philippines
“The Department of Health (DOH) of the Philippines stands for health and the importance of enabling the public to make rational choices based on truthful information. Cigarettes, heated tobacco products (HTPs), and other tobacco products have overwhelming evidence of harm. E-cigarettes and HTPs have no sufficient data as to their safety profile. It is also worth noting that these products are addicting and potentially harmful as there is no clear evidence that they are useful for quitting smoking. Given these, it is prudent to uncover the deceptive messages and tactics of the groups that forward the market of HTPs and e-cigarettes claiming that these products are contributory in forwarding smoke free people and environment. To be smoke free is to be free from the use and exposure to cigarettes, e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and all related options—which is in opposition to the claims of tobacco industry front groups. These front groups include the Foundation for Smoke Free World (FSFW). Campaigns and publications of FSFW, and such organizations that encourage the use of emerging tobacco products, are misleading and confusing. Further, we regret the act of FSFW to hack the concept of the Smoke Free Index as conceptualized by Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)—a partner of the ASEAN members in promoting health.
Countering and exposing the deceptive campaigns of the tobacco industry and its front groups is not just an endeavor; it is a FIGHT for the health and life of the present and future generations.”
Dr. Rolando Enrique Domingo
Undersecretary, OIC – Director General, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Department of Health, Philippines
HealthBridge, Viet Nam
“SEATCA has been working with its partners in the region, including HealthBridge Viet Nam, in developing and updating its Smoke-Free Index since 2016. SEATCA’s Smoke-Free Index supports the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and is a well-known indicator to assess the implementation of smoke-free policies in the region. The recent use and trademarking of the term “Smoke-Free Index” by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) funded by Philip Morris International is an act affecting the reputation of SEATCA and threatening tobacco control efforts worldwide. HealthBridge Viet Nam is strongly against FSFW’s hijacking this term and calls on FSFW to immediately stop its Smoke-Free Index. HealthBridge Viet Nam calls on governments, organizations, and individuals around the world to reject the FSFW’s Smoke-Free Index”.”
Ministry of Health, National Tobacco Control Committee, Lao PDR
On behalf of MOH Lao PDR we would like to support SEATCA on reject any partnership with PMI funded FSFW. and we also support by sharing through our medias partner and social medias.
Dr Katthanaphone Phandouangsy
“OxySuisse (Swiss tobacco control NGO based in Geneva) fully supports SEATCA’s advocacy campaign. Philip Morris’s hijacking, via its front organization Foundation for a Smoke-free World (FSFW), of the term “Smoke-free Index” cannot be accepted. We note that Philip Morris claims intellectual property not only of the trademark [SMOKE-FREE INDEX] – this is already unacceptable – but also of the term “Smoke-free Index”, as is seen on the extract shown below taken from the website of FSFW (https://www.smokefreeworld.org/advancing-industry-transformation/smoke-free-index). The Smoke-free Index was introduced in 2016 by SEATCA for monitoring the implementation of Article 8 of the WHO Framework-Convention on Tobacco Control. Letting the tobacco multinational appropriate such an element of established tobacco control terminology would set a dangerous and worrying precedent. OxySuisse fully supports SEATCA in its move to oppose Philip Morris’s predatory claim of ownership of the Smoke-free Index.”
Smoke-Free Partnership, Belgium
The Smoke Free Partnership (SFP) stands firmly behind SEATCA in its fight to defend its Smoke-Free Index against the actions of the Phillip-Morris International-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW). The actions of FSFW serve to further the commercial interests of the tobacco industry and to endanger the reliable, trustworthy resources developed in support of the WHO FCTC by SEATCA. We appeal to governments, academia and civil society to continue rejecting and resisting any FSFW actions around this, and to join SEATCA against yet another unethical tobacco industry activity.
Anca Toma Friedlaender
Smoke Free Partnership
The Union supports SEATCA’s campaign against latest attempts by PMI to undermine tobacco control
The Union supports SEATCA’s campaign against the Philip Morris International (PMI) funded Foundation for a Smoke-free World (FSFW), which is attempting to hijack the “Smoke-Free Index” concept to further its own corporate agenda.
“The FSFW-funded ‘smoke-free index’ is yet another obvious marketing ploy intended to undermine tobacco control policy and promote the business interests of PMI,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union).
“PMI claims a commitment to reducing harm, but at the same time is continuing to promote the sale of cigarettes around the world, whilst actively interfering in public health policies which are proven to reduce tobacco use.”
The FSFW has been reaching out to research organisations, NGOs and academics in search of partners to legitimise its attempts to promote smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated-tobacco products like IQOS, which PMI aggressively markets in low- and middle-income countries.
The public health community remains sceptical of the FSFW’s agenda, however, and The Union has joined high profile organisations like WHO and hundreds of othersto publicly reject any form of collaboration with foundation.
In the past month, two regional meetings organised by the FSFW to inform the development of its “Smoke-Free Index” tool, scheduled to be held in Bangkok and Istanbul, have been cancelled due to a lack of confirmed attendees, following urgent calls by the public health community to boycott such events.
Dr Gan Quan said: “The public health community has been strong and vocal in its refusal to partner with the FSFW, and it is encouraging to see that this is working. It is important that we continue to stand against big tobacco, and support campaigns like SEATCA’s which expose the industry’s manipulative and deceitful tactics.”
Director of Tobacco Control at International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union)
It has come to the attention of the Tobacco Free Portfolios that the ‘Foundation for a Smoke-free World’, the foundation funded by tobacco company Philip Morris International, is requesting input from investors on the diea of a ‘Smoke-Free Index’. The Foundation has proposed multiple events via a third party – SustainAbility.
In relation to this initiative, we request that you kindly note the following:
- Tobacco Free Portfolios does not endorse this initiative.
- We stand united with the World Health Organisation, the UN Tobacco Treaty (the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) and other organisations who will not engage with the above-named Foundation (Please see the following World Health Organisation Statement on the
Foundation: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/28-09-2017-who-statement-on-philip-morris-funded-foundation-for-a-smoke-free-world and the
Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Statement: https://www.who.int/fctc/secretariat/head/statements/2017/commentary-on-the-launch-of-the-foundation-for-a-smoke-free-worl/en/).
We consider this initiative to be a direct challenge to the positive impact achieved to date by the finance sector in advancing tobacco-free finance and we strongly advise Signatories of the Tobacco-Free Finance Pledge to not engage with the Foundation or the proposed initiative.
Dr. Bronwyn King AO, MBBS, FRANZCR
CEO Tobacco Free Portfolios