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The BBC's Liz George
"The accusations include a 1998 plan to attack WHO anti-smoking initiatives worldwide"
 real 56k

David Greenberg, Philip Morris
"We opposed policies that we thought were extreme"
 real 56k

Dr Thomas Zeltner, author of the WHO report
"We didn't really analyse whether their activities were legal or illegal"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Big tobacco accused of dirty tricks
cigarette production
The cigarette industry is heavily criticised
The tobacco industry has been secretly campaigning to wreck efforts by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to fight smoking, says a report.

Among the allegations are that the industry tried to discredit the WHO and get its budgets cut, even that it secretly monitored meetings and obtained confidential documents.

The tobacco companies...viewed one of their foremost enemies

WHO report
The investigation, commissioned by the WHO last autumn, was conducted by Thomas Zeltner, director of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

Much of its information was drawn from internal tobacco industry documents unearthed during legal action in the US.

The report details a 1988 plan headed by tobacco giant Philip Morris' chief executive Geoffrey Bible to attack WHO anti-smoking initiatives worldwide.

The report concludes: "The tobacco companies' own documents show that they viewed WHO, an international public health agency, as one of their foremost enemies."

It is being published just months before the start of official negotiations for an international tobacco control treaty, which could lead to strict controls on tobacco advertising worldwide.

Smoking is less popular in developed countries, but rising elsewhere
Figures released in the UK suggest that lung cancer deaths have fallen by 50% - mainly as a result of fewer people smoking.

However, in many parts of the world, particularly developing countries, smoking rates are rising fast, and anti-smoking messages are difficult to deliver in a climate of unregulated advertising.

The report accuses the industry of working to convince the UN Food and Agriculture Agency that poorer nations should not emphasize anti-smoking efforts because tobacco was a lucrative cash crop.

Action plan

The tobacco giants formulated an "action plan", claims the report, which identified 26 "global threats" to the industry and strategies to counter each of them.

"That top executives of tobacco companies sat together to design and set in motion elaborate strategies to subvert a public health organisation is unacceptable and must be condemned," says the report.

I think it shows that the tobacco industry is entirely unscrupulous

Clive Bates, Ash
Other damaging allegations suggest that Philip Morris and British American Tobacco orchestrated a "dirty tricks" campaign to disrupt a major tobacco and health conference in 1992.

These included, claimed the report, "training" journalists to both "hound a conference participant", and take over a press conference.

In addition, the industry managed to place its own "consultants" at the WHO to monitor its anti-smoking efforts, secretly monitoring meetings and obtaining confidential documents.

International anti-smoking campaigners Action on Smoking and Health have welcomed the report.

Ash director Clive Bates said: "I think it shows that the tobacco industry is entirely unscrupulous and will stop at nothing to get its own way, breaking any boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

Continuing problem

"They bought their way into influential positions."

He added: "What we want to know is what Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland (WHO director general) and Kofi Annan (UN secretary general) are going to do about it."

He said that the "dirty tricks" perpetrated by the tobacco firms were ongoing: "The evidence going right up to the present time."

However, a statement from Philip Morris said that while it had "regrets" over past situations in which "conflict prevailed over consensus", the report did not reflect current relations with the WHO.

It denied the reports claims that it had "improper influence" over WHO activities, or sought to "prevent or obstruct" them.

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See also:

02 Aug 00 | Health
A global smoking battle
02 Aug 00 | Health
UK lung cancer deaths halved
08 Feb 00 | Health
'Treat nicotine as a hard drug'
19 Nov 99 | Medical notes
22 May 00 | Health
Tobacco giants fight ad ban
14 Jun 00 | Health
Tobacco industry under attack
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