President of PMI’s new Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and well known anti-tobacco advocate rebukes claims that the foundation is merely a publicity stunt
It was September of last year when Philip Morris International announced that they’d be giving 80 million dollars a year for the next 12 years to help set up the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. They said that the express goal of this foundation would be to support and fund research that looks into the efficacy of vaping and heat-not-burn technology as a safer alternative to smoking. This raised questions from anti-tobacco groups, who are more than a little skeptical of PMI and their intentions. But by getting the renowned anti-tobacco advocate, Derek Yach to be the president of their foundation, some have been willing to give the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World a chance before they pass judgment.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the most common response, with both the FFSFW and Derek Yach being regularly lampooned by public health officials and experts before the foundation has even been launched. Now Mr. Yach is asking the anti-smoking community to give them a chance to prove their intentions before dismissing them. Vaping research is readily needed, and few institutions are currently providing grants to conduct this type of research, potentially making the FFSFW a vital part of the fight for vaping rights.
Derek Yach has spent his entire career fighting against tobacco and the huge corporations, like PMI, which have profited from hiding the truth about their harm. He was an integral part of the WHO’s 2005 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which saw 180 countries ratify rules that set a standard for the production, sale, advertisement, and taxation of tobacco products. While he is proud of the work they did to prevent more smokers from ever picking up the habit, he has long wished that it did more to help individuals who already smoke to quit for good.
To that end, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World will focus on helping smokers quit through the use of harm reduction tools, such as vaping and heat-not-burn devices. But this won’t just be a PR campaign, with Mr. Yach ensuring that the foundation’s onus is placed on peer-reviewed research. “If these products have an impact, we need to have independent research to show that they should be given more support. So, our work will not be to simply push them out, but to do high-quality research to look at the negative and positive sides.”
Mr. Yach does understand why many of his colleagues are skeptical of the true intentions of PMI in this endeavor. But he assures them all that he hasn’t decided to go back on his career of advocacy but instead sees this as a rare opportunity when what’s best for the health of smokers is also something that can help make tobacco companies sustainable into the future. “I am not naive enough to believe that Philip Morris is doing this because of the warm fuzzy feeling that they want to lower the death rates. No. What they want to do is have a product that is less risky and that makes them profits. That is the beginning and end of it.”
Even with solid reasoning and his well-earned reputation, several high profile officials have continued to call into question the goals of the FFSFW. Vince Willmore, the Vice-President of Communications with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, believes that any foundation funded by PMI is precluded from deserving trust or support. He sees the whole thing as a type of smoke-screen that is only going to help further the goals of Philip Morris while simultaneously undermining the work done by others.
The problem is that almost no other foundations are dedicated to understanding the real risks of vaping compared with smoking. That is why so many have been excited by the news of an organization that’s express purpose is to do just that. Unfortunately, many are unwilling to take the good with the bad, opting to continue woefully underfunding vaping research instead of accepting the money understanding the primary goal of PMI is not saving lives. The truth is it’s a business like any other, and they are beginning to realize that the days of combustible cigarettes are coming to an end. That’s why they want to be the first to fully adopt the heat-not-burn and vaping products that thus far have only cut into their profits.
The truth of the matter is that PMI is primarily interested in promoting their own iQOS product. But it’s equally valid that the best way to prove vaping is really less dangerous than traditional smoking is to fund the research looking into that exact question. Part of the FFSFW’s rules stipulates that Philip Morris can in no way dictate what research is done or published by the foundation. So the vaping community as a whole has a lot more to gain from the increase in the specialized study than it has to lose by allowing PMI to promote their heat-not-burn product with that same research. While it may cause some career anti-tobacco lobbyists an internal struggle, the bottom line is that for once what’s best for the health of the public is also what’s best for the future of PMI and other big tobacco companies. So if we really want to prove once and for all that vaping is the clear choice for smokers looking to reduce their level of risk dramatically, we have to trust that Derek Yach will lead this foundation in the correct direction. Given his track record, I for one am entirely on board.
What do you think about PMI funding a vaping research foundation? Do you believe that vaping advocates and big tobacco can benefit from the same thing? How much skepticism is fair when dealing with a big tobacco company in a circumstance like this? Let us know in the comments.