A $20 million fund has been set up to start a global anti-tobacco program dubbed, Stopping Tobacco Organisation and Products (STOP).
The fund committed by Founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Michael R. Bloomberg, is a new global watchdog to aggressively monitor deceptive tobacco industry tactics and practices that undermine public health.
The move is aimed at addressing the current trend which according to officials is encouraging illicit trade in Tobacco in lower and middle-income countries especially Africa.
This was announced at the opening of the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) being held in Cape Town, South Africa.
Key figures in the fight against tobacco use told delegates that public health gains made under the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) are being subjected to unprecedented levels of attack from the tobacco industry.
STOP will function as a robust global monitoring system that complements existing efforts in identifying industry deception.
The watchdog will deliver regular reports detailing tactics and strategies both at global and country-level and will provide tools and training materials for countries to combat Big Tobacco’s influence.
STOP will also liaise with existing Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use partners to supplement country-level grants that assist nonprofits and governments in pushing back strongly against interference by Big Tobacco.
Findings will be publically available and fully aligned with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that clearly outlines the prohibition of tobacco industry involvement in government policymaking.
“Over the last decade tobacco control measures have saved nearly 35 million lives, but as more cities and countries take action, the tobacco industry is pushing to find new users, particularly among young people," said Michael R. Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Non-communicable Diseases and Bloomberg Philanthropies Founder.
He adds that “We cannot stand by as the industry misleads the public in an effort to get more people hooked on its products and this global watchdog will help us hold the industry accountable.”
For decades, tobacco giants have tried to deceive the public with duplicitous tactics. Philip Morris International (PMI) recently provided the initial $80 million of funding to “Foundation for a Smoke-Free World,” a move seen by many public health experts as a thinly veiled effort to legitimize the tobacco industry and allow them access to the policy-making table.
In addition to aggressively marketing its combustible cigarettes to children and teenagers in low- and middle-income countries, the industry is pushing alternative products, such as heat-not-burn and e-cigarettes, as cessation devices while the evidence remains inconclusive.
Tobacco industry-funded research has repeatedly been a smokescreen for behaviour that has led to worse outcomes for smokers.
For example, supposedly safer low-tar and filtered cigarettes led to greater numbers of smokers, deeper inhalation patterns, and or higher daily consumption hence worsening public health worldwide.
With its initial 20 million US Dollars investment, STOP will divide resources between robust monitoring and reporting of industry behaviour, and combating the false narratives so often created on the ground.
"STOP will commit itself to exposing this industry wherever it wields its considerable resources to influence government policy; whenever it distracts from proven interventions by promoting unproven alternative products as a solution; and whenever it gains access to the public debate using false and misleading science," said Dr. Kelly Henning, Director of Public Health Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies.
He continues that, "We already have the tools to succeed today. We have made huge progress over the past two decades and we can continue to make massive inroads in reducing the ill health and suffering from tobacco use.”
“STOP is a warning call to Big Tobacco that they are on notice,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
According to him, the World Health Organization and its partners will not accept efforts to undermine the huge successes in tobacco control that we have achieved over the past few decades.
“There is no going back,” he emphasises.
The competitive application process launched will determine the lead organizations for tracking industry behaviour and publishing robust, frequent updates.
Nongovernmental organizations and academic institutions will be invited to submit their best and boldest ideas for STOP. Groups may apply jointly (up to three organizations per application), but at least one organization must be from a low- or middle-income country. Then a final decision will be announced by July 2018.
During the opening plenary session of the conference, speakers called for a renewed focus on the tobacco control policies that are proven to help users quit, and to prevent non-users from becoming addicted.
Some 2000 delegates made up of researchers, scientists, UN and civil society representatives, healthcare professionals and policymakers from more than 100 countries are attending the triennial conference, from 7 – 9 March.
The conference theme, “Uniting the World for a Tobacco Free Generation”, recognises that international collaboration is vital for tackling tobacco use, which remains the world’s leading preventable cause of death, killing more than seven million people each year.
WCTOH is the premier international forum on tobacco control. This year’s event is the first in its 50-year history to be held on the African continent.
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