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4 revelations from a Reuters investigation into Philip Morris

There are many reasons to be skeptical about claims from Philip Morris International that it is “trying to give up cigarettes” as part of its effort to build a “smoke-free future,” as the company stated in advertisements in major British newspapers for the New Year's resolution season.

Truth Initiative® CEO and President Robin Koval and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew L. Myers outlined several of those reasons in a joint commentary in Fortune magazine earlier this month. “It is the height of hypocrisy for PMI to proclaim that it is helping solve the tobacco problem while it aggressively markets cigarettes — especially in low- and middle-income countries — and fights proven policies to reduce tobacco use and save lives,” they wrote.

But don’t just take it from us. A Reuters investigative series into the secret strategies of PMI, the world’s largest publicly-traded tobacco company, uncovers the company’s methodical, long-term plan to undermine public health science and global anti-smoking efforts. Its global efforts are especially important to examine now, as the company is making news in the United States.

PMI is applying for Food and Drug Administration approval to sell a new type of tobacco product called iQOS in the country, is making plans for its recently launched Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, from which several American universities have already pledged publicly to refuse research funding, and is garnering speculation regarding whether it will align with U.S.-based tobacco company Altria.

Here are four interesting facts from the Reuters investigation, which uses private industry documents, including emails, presentations and strategy memos.

1. PMI uses secret strategies to undermine the World Health Organization’s international tobacco reduction efforts.

Although PMI publicly denies it, a staple of its lobbying strategy is to undermine WHO international conferences, which create legislation to curb tobacco use worldwide. A major component of PMI’s campaign is to influence the countries’ delegates who weigh in on new anti-smoking guidelines. While PMI told Reuters that it did not attend the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in New Delhi, India in November, it created a secret command center nearby to host delegates and attempt to influence them.

In the past, tobacco executives have impersonated members of the general public to gain entry to WHO anti-smoking conferences. “It’s a real war,” Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, head of secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, told Reuters.

2. The company has an “army” of corporate lobbyists.

Reuters reports that PMI boasts an “army” of 600 corporate affairs executives who can be dispatched all over the globe, making it one of the world’s largest corporate lobbying forces. It also has “$7 billion-plus in annual net profit” at its disposal, dwarfing the WHO treaty office’s annual budget of $6 million.

3. Shrinking scientific input is a major focus.

Another PMI priority is to influence which delegates countries nominate, trying to stack the deck with more public officials who are more concerned with protecting tobacco revenues, and fewer public health experts and health ministry representatives.

4. PMI’s lobbying efforts are effective across the globe.

Reuters obtained internal company communications about “excellent results” obtained at WHO conferences and in follow-up advocacy in individual countries. The company has secured several policy victories that create favorable treatment in trade pacts and regulations. For example, PMI thwarted efforts in Israel to end the sale of chocolate- and fruit-flavored cigarettes, and the Vietnamese delegation parroted PMI talking points in public WHO meetings.

For more on the company’s purported goal of “eliminating smoking worldwide,” read our statement on the launch on the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.