While Philip Morris International (PMI) publicly offers the world a smokefree future, in secrecy, the corporation works hard to hinder public health policies.
On its website, PMI draws a blurred picture of an allegedly healthy future and even claims to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To strengthen this image PMI commissioned the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) to develop a human rights implementation plan. Did they forget that their products violate the human right to health?
PMI leaks: Thwarting the FCTC
Last week, the PMI leaks turned up, internal documents that form the basis for an investigative Reuters report and that have been published in parts. The journalists show which strategies PMI lobby teams use to undermine negotiations of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) as well as national anti-tobacco legislation:
- They lobby lawmakers, bureaucrats and other government officials, often in secrecy.
- They try to move tobacco issues away from health departments.
- They deploy third parties such as retailers to make thier case and exert pressure on decision makers.
- They engage with the media on tobacco issues and generate public debates to influence decision makers in their favour.
To derail the implementation of the tobacco control convention, PMI aims at increasing the number of delegates at the treaty conferences who are not from health departments, but from ministries of trade, finance and agriculture. According to Reuters, that is happening since 2006.
At the same time, PMI directly influenced delegates of the FCTC negotiations. One of the targets was Vietnam, whose delegates had several meetings with PMI lobbyists during the conference weeks in Russia (2014) as well as in India (2016).
In the FCTC secretariat 19 staff are working to oversee the treaty, while PMI employs a force of 600 corporate affairs executives, i.e. lobbyists.
PMI leaks: Violating Indian laws
Reuters published a second report where they evaluated the PMI leaks concerning advertisement strategies for the Marlboro brand in India.
According to this, PMI is using colourful ads at kiosks and handing out free cigarettes at youth parties – and is breaking Indian non-smoker protection laws.
In India, PMI’s key goal is “winning the hearts and minds of LA-24”, i.e. young people aged 18 to 24, according to a 2015 document. Advertisement at points of sale and at youth events are a perfect means to do this and, therefore, are the core of PMI’s marketing. This strategy has already been successful in the 1980s and 1990s in the United States.
To convince retailers to put up Marlboro ads at their kiosks, PMI paid them monthly fees or handed out free cigarettes to them. Reuters has been gathering this information in interviews and has even seen receipts signed by PMI representatives.
The head of the tobacco control unit in Delhi warned PMI in a letter to stop breaching the law, setting a deadline for compliance. In May 2017, the unit conducted a raid to control tobacco points of sale. The advertisements were still up. So, retailers got fined.
But to start legal proceedings against PMI, the senior tobacco control officer from Delhi has to wait for an answer from the federal government.
19 staff at the FCTC secretariat are facing 600 corporate lobbyists from PMI alone.