A close up shot of a man smoking a cigarette Yasser Al-Zayyat/Getty Images

Smoking Out Big Tobacco

Recent investigations have provided damning evidence of what those in the public health community have known for decades: Big Tobacco, in its relentless pursuit of profit, works hard to block and weaken consumer protections. It is time to prevent that industry – and others working from its playbook – from influencing public policy.

BOSTON – Recently, the tobacco industry’s lack of respect for people’s lives, international law, and national sovereignty has been placed under a spotlight. Investigations carried out by the likes of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Guardian newspaper have provided damning evidence of what we in the public health community have known for decades: Big Tobacco, in its relentless pursuit of profit, is subverting, blocking, and weakening public health protections in any way it can.

As the investigations showed, corporations like Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco have often used covert tactics, outright bullying, and illicit activities to block progress on the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), established in 2003. Now, the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has confirmed that it is investigating British American Tobacco for a conspiracy of bribery in Central and East Africa.

That is a start. But, given the fundamental conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public-health objectives, health practitioners and governments around the world must do more to prevent Big Tobacco from interfering in official policy. Indeed, they must erect an unbreachable firewall between policymaking and the industry at the national and international levels.

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