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clearing up myths and misperceptions

Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Derek Yach

I was quite surprised when the World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued a statement mischaracterizing the mission of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, and wrongly suggesting the Foundation doesn’t comply with Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

As someone deeply involved in the development of the FCTC as a cabinet director and executive director at WHO, I know a bit about the FCTC. And it is clear the goals and objectives of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World are squarely in line with the FCTC and especially Article 5.3.

Article 5.3 is vital. It protects tobacco control policies from ill-intentioned influence from the tobacco industry by stating that governments should avoid partnering with anyone working to further the industry’s commercial interests. The dubious history of the tobacco industry makes Article 5.3 necessary.

But despite the erroneous statement from WHO, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World complies with Article 5.3 for many reasons, including:

  1. The Foundation is an independent legal entity separate and distinct from the tobacco industry, with independent governance, a peer-reviewed research agenda and strict protections against conflict of interest.
  2. As a registered non-profit corporation, the Foundation is legally prohibited from furthering the commercial interests of its funders.
  3. The Foundation’s Certificate of Incorporation clearly states the Foundation shall be operated exclusively for charitable, scientific and educational purposes. It also commits the Foundation to supporting independent scientific research free from the influence of any commercial entity.
  4. The Bylaws of the Foundation are even clearer – declaring the Foundation must pay no heed to the impact of its work on the tobacco industry.

WHO’s Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors encourages WHO to conduct proper due diligence to determine if Non-State Actors, such as the Foundation, are subject to the influence of a private sector entity. That due diligence has not occurred. If it had been conducted, WHO would have quickly learned the Foundation’s goals are completely aligned with WHO’s goals.

I have reached out to WHO to share information about the Foundation so WHO can conduct proper due diligence on the Foundation, and I urge WHO to reconsider its statement about the Foundation and the FCTC. Furthermore, the Foundation plans to eventually apply for WHO Non-State Actor designation as a philanthropic foundation.

The Foundation and WHO have a shared objective – to rid the world of cigarettes and dramatically reduce smoking-related disease and death. With one death every six seconds from smoking, smoking is an urgent public health crisis that will be most rapidly solved through partnership and collaboration. I look forward to partnering with WHO and others to achieve our shared goal.