The Union supports SEATCA’s campaign against latest attempts by PMI to undermine tobacco control

The Union supports a campaign launched by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) against the Philip Morris International (PMI) funded Foundation for a Smoke-free World (FSFW).  

SEATCA’s campaign centres around the FSFW’S attempt to trademark the title “Smoke-Free Index” for its new tool, which is intended to evaluate the actions of 15 tobacco companies as they move from promoting conventional cigarettes to alternative “smoke-free” products.

SEATCA had already developed a tool by the exact same name three years ago, to assess the implementation of smoke-free policies in southeast Asian countries in line with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

The FSFW announced the plans to develop what it termed “the first ever Smoke-Free Index” in March 2019. Three months earlier, the foundation filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for ownership of the mark “[Smoke-Free Index]”; and filed similar applications in the EU, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia, China and Canada.

“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,” said Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

Dr Dorotheo has also highlighted a 2014 PMI Corporate Affairs presentation made public by a Reuters investigative report in 2017, which said: “We’re still building ASEAN-wide counterweights to SEATCA, the major ATO [anti-tobacco organization] in Asia.” This evidence suggests that PMI has been actively monitoring the activities of SEATCA, and implies that its move to trademark the title “Smoke-Free Index” is not a coincidence but a deliberate attempt to undermine SEATCA’s tobacco control efforts in the region.

“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 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 others to 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.”

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