Foundation for a ‘Smoke-Free World’ dribbles Malawi on “No fire, No Smoke-Tobacco Harm Reduction”

By Chris Zumani Zimba

  1. Malawi, one of world’s most tobacco dependent economy

e cigarretes.jpgAccording to 2018 statistics from the Tobacco Control Commission (TCC), a parastatal agency, tobacco contributes 11 % to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Malawi and accounts for 60 % of foreign exchange earnings with about 80 % of the rural workforce employed in the tobacco production1. Today, Malawian tobacco is found in blends of nearly every cigarette smoked in industrialized nations including the popular and ubiquitous Camel and Marlboro brands2. In 2005, Malawi was the 12th largest producer of tobacco leaves and the 7th largest global supporter of tobacco leaves. As of 2010, Malawi was the world’s leading producer of burley leaf tobacco2.

  1. The myth of wealth in tobacco farming visas growing poverty levels among Malawians

For more than four decades, the tobacco industry has been vigorously promoting the idea that tobacco farming brings wealth to the small scale farmers and landowners in Malawi2. But the contrary seem to be the reality as facts show that tobacco farming ‘actuality captures these farmers in a cycle of debts’3. Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) describes Malawi in this way: “a state of continuous deprivation or a lack of the basics of life”4. According to the World Bank and IMF, Malawi is largely agricultural country landlocked by Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique with a population of more than 18 million citizens where more than 52% of the population live below the poverty line, and over 25% in extreme poverty4.

  1. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World dribbles Malawi on Tobacco Harm Reduction

Due to improved tobacco control and regulations across Europe, North America and Australia, interest in Malawi’s low-grade and high-nicotine tobacco has been on the increase globally. Malawi with its poor tobacco control laws is now one of the lead destinations for serious commercialized tobacco business.

In March, 2019, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (SFW), a Philip Morris International funded organization launched its Africa report dubbed “No fire, No Smoke- Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction” in Lilongwe, Malawi highlighting the need for countries to strengthen preventive measures against smoking and promoting the use of Safer Nicotine Products (SNPs). Chief of Health Service in the Ministry of Health Dr. Charles Mwansambo promised government’s commitment to this gesture and made the remarks at the launch:

“We are aware of the health hazards that tobacco smoking has as a major cause of lung diseases including TB as well as different types of cancer…As government, we need to come up with other strategies to reduce tobacco consumption as well as increase awareness on the dangers of smoking such as SNPs,5 Dr. Mwansambo observed. This was good news for SFW and Philip Morris Int.

Generally, there are very few Malawians and Africans who are aware that the launch of such studies on “Tobacco Harm Reduction” or “Safer Nicotine Products (SNPs)” by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World is just another complex and covert scientific strategy of dribbling and manipulating the public in believing that they are being helped to reduce or stop combustible tobacco smoking when the truth is that, SFW is actually promoting as well initiating or introducing people to Philip Morris’s modern or ‘acceptable’ SNPs such as electronic or e-cigarettes. In other words, it is important to stress that such studies are only good for SNPs business and not necessarily prioritizing public health as they are furtively designed to enhance the new products, market and profitability of the foundation’s funders-Philip Morris.

  1. How ‘Smoke Free World’ dribbles the World with SNPs for Philip Morris

In the “No Fire No Smoke: Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2018 Report”, undertaken and written by Knowledge-Action-Change with support and funding solely from SFW, the following are the main twisted facts and key highlights to suit Philip Morris’s so called Safer Nicotine Products (SNPs):

  • More people smoke cigarettes than use any other form of combustible tobacco products;
  • The tobacco cigarette is the most dangerous way of consuming nicotine;
  • Combustion of tobacco is the problem, combustion releases highly dangerous toxins;
  • People smoke for the nicotine but die from the tar and gases;
  • Smoking is a major contributor to deaths from many non-communicable diseases;
  • It is the poor who suffer most from smoking and the poorest countries are least able to enforce effective tobacco controls;
  • Many people give up smoking on their own and some with the help of medicinal products, but many fail;
  • The steep declines in smoking prevalence in higher income countries are beginning to slow while in many poorer countries smoking is set to rise;
  • Existing forms of tobacco control are not enough to help people shift away from smoking tobacco;
  • Safer nicotine products and tobacco harm reduction;
  • Safer Nicotine Products (SNP) deliver nicotine with a significant reduction in risk as compared to combusted tobacco products – there is ‘No Fire, No Smoke’
  • International evidence shows that these products are safer for the individual smoker, immediate family and bystanders than smoking cigarettes
  • The provision of safer ways of delivering nicotine enables people to continue using nicotine but to avoid the health risks of smoking
  • ‘Quit or Die’ is no longer the only option for those who cannot give up nicotine. SNP – including e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn products and Swedish snus offer another way – ‘Quit or Try’
  • The rapid rise in the use of SNP has been driven by consumer demand often in the face of public health or government opposition
  • Flawed science, misleading public information and sensational media reporting are all sowing seeds of doubt about SNP among consumers, politicians and the general public
  • Banning these products, or subjecting them to onerous regulation or high taxation effectively deny access to potentially lifesaving products
  • SNP could not only effect a global revolution in public health but also at no cost to governments6.

  1. Foundation for a ‘Smoke-Free World’, America’s giant cigarette maker funded initiative and why WHO totally rejects it

The Foundation for a ‘Smoke-Free World’ (SFW) was established with and remains fully funded by Philip Morris International (PMI)7. From inception, America’s giant cigarette maker officially agreed to contribute US$80 million annually to SFW for the next 12 years starting from 2018 which makes SFW’s claims of being independent both false and illogical7. As such, on 28th September, 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) made an official statement concerning the “Philip Morris funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World” and denounced the new foundation in the following terms:

The UN General Assembly has recognized a “fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health.” (1) WHO Member States have stated that “WHO does not engage with the tobacco industry or non-State actors that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry”, (2) the Organization will therefore not engage with this new Foundation8

…Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) obliges Parties to act to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 state clearly that governments should limit interactions with the tobacco industry and avoid partnership. These Guidelines are also explicit that Governments should not accept financial or other contributions from the tobacco industry or those working to further its interests, such as this Foundation9

….When it comes to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, there are a number of clear conflicts of interest involved with a tobacco company funding a purported health foundation, particularly if it promotes sale of tobacco and other products found in that company’s brand portfolio. WHO will not partner with the Foundation. Governments should not partner with the Foundation and the public health community should follow this lead”10. To date, WHO has maintained its position on the foundation and hope Malawians and Africans now know and understand how to take and treat the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSW).

REFERENCES

  1. Mweninguwe .R, (2018:1) “Agriculture-Smoking kills”, accessed from https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/malawi-tobacco-growing-country-yet-smoking-health-hazard Retrieved 9th June, 2019
  2. Otanez, Marty, Hadii M. Mamudu, and Stanton A. Glantz. “Tobacco Companies’ Use of Developing Countries’ Economic Reliance on Tobacco to Lobby Against Global Tobacco Control: The Case of Malawi” American Journal of Public Health. 2009: 99(10), 1759–1771
  3. Kapito J, (2000:1), “For a strong and binding Framework Convention on tobacco Control (FCTC)”, a Public Hearing  organised  by  WHO  in  Geneva, 12-10-2000, accessed from https://www.who.int/tobacco/framework/public_hearings/tobacco_control_advocate_consumer_association.pdf
  4. Borgen Project (2019:1), https://borgenproject.org/rising-above-poverty-in-malawi/ accessed “Facts and Figures Towards Rising Above Poverty in Malawi”, Retrieved on 29-05-19
  5. MBC (2019:1), “Malawi launches global state of tobacco harm reduction” accessed from https://www.mbc.mw/index.php/news/sports/item/7827-malawi-launches-global-state-of-tobacco-harm-reduction-report
  6. Harry Shapiro and Grzegorz Krol, (2018:1) “No Fire, No Smoke: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2018 (2018)”, London: Knowledge-Action-Change.
  7. Meyer, Philip Morris Pledges $1 Billion to Anti-Smoking Foundation, Fortune, 13 September 2017, accessed 25-05-2019; Glantz, Derek Yach’s journey to the Dark Side is now complete, UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, 13 September 2017, accessed on 02-06-2019
  8. General Assembly Resolution 66/2, 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
  9. World Health Assembly Resolution, WHO Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors, WHA69.10, 28 May 2016, para. 44.
  10. WHO (2019:1) accessed from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/28-09-2017-who-statement-on-philip-morris-funded-foundation-for-a-smoke-free-world Retrieved on 09-06-19

Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Policy Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher, Consultant, Public Health and Tobacco Control Advocate. He is the lead researcher with “Centre for Advocacy and Research on Tobacco Control in Zambi0a” (CARTOCOZA) under Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia where he is the CEO.  Besides analysing African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Town, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT, he has also authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles on African politics and public health. Sometimes, he lectures Political Science-Part Time with University of Zambia (UNZA) and University of Lusaka (UNILUS). tobaccocontroladvocacyzed@gmail.com or chriszumanizimba@yahoo.com; +260 973 153 815

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