MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL…..
WHICH GOVERNMENTAL HEALTH AGENCY IS THE MOST CORRUPT OF ALL?
In September of 2017, an organization was created named Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, whose stated goals including noble endeavors like anti-smoking education, funding of various kinds of smoking cessation programs, decreasing smoking-related illnesses, monitoring the tobacco industry, educating tobacco farmers on farming options in light of a soon-to-be smoke-free world, as well as funding research for all of the above and more. Furthermore, this was not the sort of donation seen on the cover of the local newspaper — one person presenting another with a comically oversized check, while vigorously shaking hands, and cheeky smiles around. We’re talking 1,000 million dollars here (1 billion over 12 years). The punch line? The company dropping the cash happened to be tobacco giant, Phillip Morris International, owner of six multi-billion dollar cigarette lines, including the ever-popular Marlboro brand.
None of this should be surprising. A 2008 study from the journal, PLoS Medicine (‘A Good Personal Scientific Relationship: Philip Morris Scientists and the Chulabhorn Research Institute, Bangkok) showed how Thailand’s Chulabhorn Research Institute (the leading environmental health science facility in Southeast Asia and headed by one Professor / Doctor “Her Royal Highness, Princess Chulabhorn, the daughter of the King of Thailand“) was essentially hijacked by Big Tobacco’s big money. “Documents reveal that ostensibly independent overseas scientists, now identified as industry consultants, were able to gain access to the Thai scientific community….” This was especially big considering that “it [CRI] has assumed international significance via its designation as a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre in December 2005.”
Not surprisingly, many of the law firms and consulting agencies who helped Big Tobacco with it’s legal and image problems over the years are members. And if you look at the board, it reads like a Who’s Who hall of fame for FINANCIAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST (COI). About this COI; Dr. Derek Yach, the Foundation’s head (he used to be head of the WHO’s ‘Tobacco Free Initiative’ as well as Senior Vice President of Global Health and Agriculture Policy for PepsiCo) stated, “I see it less as a conflict of interest than a confluence of interest“. I can buy that. The whole scam revolves around everyone involved making money — a ‘confluence‘ by anyone’s definition.
It should not come as a surprise that Phillip Morris International uses these sorts of diversionary tactics to try and cover the fact that they market their products to children (see The Facts about Philip Morris International: Company Is Cause of the Tobacco Problem, Not the Solution on Tobacco Free Kids dot org). Listen to how Jonathan Liberman, the director of the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer put it…..
“The relevant wording in the Certificate of Incorporation and the Bylaws does not support ‘ending smoking’ through activities aimed at prevention of uptake or cessation of use without replacement by other products. If that had been the intention, it would have been a simple matter to so provide. Patently, Philip Morris has a significant commercial interest in alternative products / harm reduction, whereas prevention of uptake and cessation of use, without replacement by other products, are not in its interests. At heart, what the arrangement between the Foundation and Philip Morris represents is an attempt to operationalize a perceived intersection between Yach’s ambitions and Philip Morris’s commercial interests that Philip Morris judges to be valuable enough to it to justify an (albeit conditional) USD960 million commitment. The USD960 million is to be spent on certain things only – not things that are obviously inconsistent with Philip Morris’s commercial interests. This – if individuals and organizations are prepared to accept the money on offer – will inherently and significantly recast the field of tobacco control research and practice. Clearly, such a recasting would be of substantial benefit to Philip Morris. To suggest that such an enterprise can be made ‘independent’ through technical governance fixes shows an awareness of a need for the Foundation to address a significant PR challenge, but it seems to rely on a rather hollow understanding of the notion of independence’.”
Once light was shed on this incestuous relationship, incredulous academic / research institutions (at least they sounded incredulous) realized they had better bail on this foundation or be seen as beholden to industry. Although when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry, they are definitely beholden to industry (SOMETHING I’VE SHOWN YOU OVER AND OVER AGAIN), accepting research dollars from Big Tobacco is much harder to explain away — most likely the reason for the title of a blog post in the British Journal of Medicine by Marita Hefler earlier this week (Philip Morris Smoke Free Foundation: Questions About Independence and Transparency, While Top Universities Distance Themselves).
If you want, you can read the report on the dissolution of this unholy marriage that was published in the February 6 issue of both Bloomberg and Fortune (Philip Morris Health Campaign Rebuffed by World Health Organization). Honestly, it’s probably more like an annulment because even though these entities had clandestinely slept together; supposedly, money had yet to change hands. Honestly, it’s a lot of huffy puffy rhetoric and harsh words by the WHO, but if this relationship had not be scrutinized so closely, they would be living with PMI in orgastic bliss for the next dozen years. Not to be outmaneuvered, Coke wanted in on some similar action.
Less than two weeks ago the public health journal, Milbank Quarterly, published a paper titled Public Meets Private: Conversations Between Coca‐Cola and the CDC. What can be learned about these “conversations” that seem all too similar to what took place inside the hallowed halls of the UN (the WHO is the medical branch of the United Nations)?
“There is growing understanding of how manufacturers of harmful products influence health policy. The strategies, approaches, and influences from such manufacturers that are detrimental to health have been termed the ‘corporate’ or ‘commercial’ determinants of health. However, while partnerships with the tobacco industry are clearly unacceptable for public health organizations, ties to other industries continue to be pursued.”
Coca Cola had the CDC’s ear because they wanted to “frame the debate” concerning the relationship between sugar, obesity, diabetes, cancer (see my Facebook post from earlier this week), and numerous others. But honestly, I’m neither shocked nor interested. After all, what else would you really expect from people who have a lot to gain (or lose) depending on how this debate is explained to the public (who could forget the way this debate between ANCEL KEYS & JOHN YUDKIN was originally described sixty years ago)? What I’m most interested in is the last sentence above —- ties to other industries continue to be pursued.
It’s not difficult to see just how widespread these relationships really are (see earlier link to my column on Evidence-Based Medicine a few paragraphs ago). What’s hilariously two-faced about this particular situation is how one of the single most corrupt organizations in all of medicine — the AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION — publically denounced the CDC for this relationship. And herein lies the problem. The very same COI that seems so disgusting when engaged in by certain types of entities (say, big tobacco), is the norm when engaged in by certain other types of entities (say, big pharma). My favorite example? How many of you have gotten your flu shot this year? If so, be sure and read THIS SCATHING PIECE by my favorite medical doctor (my little brother).
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