JTI’s mischievous statement to new WHO DG

26 May 2017:

The World Health Organization has just elected a new Director-General who will take office on 1 July. Already, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has issued a mischievous statement asking him to scrutinise WHO’s practices of non-transparency along with a bunch of other malicious accusations. A tobacco company’s issuance of a statement to the head of the world’s leading health body can only mean that it is very worried about its own future.

After making about US$5 billion profits in 2016 from selling an addictive product that kills half its customers prematurely, JTI has the audacity to tell how WHO ought to run its health programmes. Consistent with past bad behaviour of the industry, JTI makes misleading and damaging statements about WHO.

The JTI accuses WHO of developing a “culture of censorship and exclusion”, holding debates behind “closed doors” at the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) in New Delhi. Tobacco industry friendly journalists and front groups were not able to attend. However, blaming WHO is mischievous and a detraction from the real fact that this is an FCTC Article 5.3 issue, where 180 governments, not WHO, made decisions about the process. Incidentally, all the COP related documents are available on the FCTC website.

It is hilarious that JTI wants the new DG to “terminate the culture of secrecy” when JTI itself functions in a web of secrecy about its lobbying activities. For example JTI is keeping secret:

  • How much it spends lobbying against tobacco control?
  • Who its lobbyists are?
  • How much it saves from buying cheap leaves subsidised by child labour
  • How much it spends on marketing campaigns?

Funny JTI wants WHO to “return to basics of tackling the issue of transparency” when there is ample evidence of how the tobacco industry secretly undermined WHO’s tobacco control efforts through various strategies, which include:

  • “Attack W.H.O.”
  • “[B]lunt [WHO’s] programme initiatives.”
  • “[A]llocate the resources to stop [WHO] in their tracks.”
  • “Work with journalists to question WHO priorities, budget, role in social engineering, etc.”
  • “[Try] to change the very nature and tone of the [WHO-sponsored] conference.”
  • “[Establish] ITGA [International Tobacco Growers Association] [as a] front for our third world lobby activities at WHO.”
  • “[I]nhibit incorporation of ILO [UN’s International Labor Organization] into WHO Anti-Smoking Program.”

JTI’s accusation of WHO “bullying tobacco farmers and governments” and “dangerously jeopardizing many programmes” appears to be a description of itself and the other tobacco companies when they:

  • Sponsor farmers to attend COP sessions (Uruguay, Seoul, New Delhi) to protest against the FCTC.
  • Pay thousands of farmers to protest in front of Parliament and Department of Health against tobacco control measures such as pictorial health warnings and tax increases, and intimidate governments from strengthening tobacco control.

JTI wants WHO to recognise its “expertise, resources and rigor it provides to communities.” However JTI will not acknowledge that its product kills half its customers, nor pay its customers their health bills, nor compensate families who lost their loved ones from smoking related sicknesses. In fact, when smokers who have suffered take their case to court, JTI opposes them.

Although e-cigarettes are not risk-free, JTI wants WHO to still recognise its “innovation”. Violating basic consumer right to safety is irrelevant to JTI. It has not withdrawn its lethal product that contains 7,000 chemical compounds from the market and it is adding other risky products to its range.

The tobacco industry’s tactics have not changed.

JTI’s frustration with WHO is really a badge of honour to the out-going WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, who did not mince her words about the industry referring to them as “ruthless, devious, rich, and powerful” and “bullies”. She made it clear that speaking to the tobacco industry cannot bring any good to public health as it is akin to “allowing a pack of sly foxes to look after the welfare of your chickens.”

Dr Chan also said, “Like my predecessors, I am not on speaking terms with the tobacco industry, but I will say this: We’ve come a long way, bullies.”

We want the new DG of WHO to echo these words and do his utmost to protect public health from the tobacco industry, the purveyors of disease and death.