The ex-dean of the University of La Laguna (Tenerife) Antonio Sierra suffered the effect of the boycott policy at the end of last year to the activities sponsored by the tobacco companies promoted by WHO. "I had convened a debate with several academic organizations about the use of electronic cigarettes to reduce tobacco damage. We were going to celebrate in the main hall of the Faculty of Medicine that I inaugurated myself, but due to pressures from the Ministry of Health, they denied me permission, there was an important disqualification process and we had to find another place. "
It's been three months of that, and Sierra is still outraged. "The University is knowledge and freedom, and the position of WHO is not coherent." "Of course I have a conflict of interest with tobacco companies as cigarette manufacturers, but it is depriving me of a proven alternative for those who do not want to or can not stop smoking," he says. Because Sierra believes that the advantage of these devices compared to cigarettes is proven. "Last month, the most prestigious medical journal in the world, the NEJM from Harvard, he published a very well-founded work about this, and there are also the guides of the English authorities, "he says.
In addition, Sierra believes that the WHO rule is "elaborated for combustion cigarettes." The tobacco control agreement came into force in 2005, when we did not have these alternatives.The electronic cigarette became popular as of 2004, and the devices of heating tobacco are from 2014. There is tremendous ignorance, "he says. "And if the tobacco companies are redirecting to products that do less damage, better." "Administration sources have told me that if electronic cigarettes were manufactured by a laboratory, there would be no problems."
The decision to not even sit down to talk to the tobacco companies is from 2003, when the Framework Agreement for Tobacco Control. After years of struggling with the tobacco lobby, which pressures every time a country tries a law that limits tobacco use, the organization managed to get that text to set the conditions for (not) cooperating with the tobacco companies. The agreement has already been signed by 181 countries, including the EU, although they are still outside the United States, Argentina, Switzerland, Morocco and Indonesia, to name only the older ones that are missing.
The last episodes of this confrontation are recent. At the end of January, WHO received a letter from the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW by its acronym in English) in which he offered to join his executive committee. The answer was clear, and the director of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, made public his rejection. The National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking and organizations such as Nofumadores and the Spanish Society of Tobacco Specialists through its initiative XQNS (Because we do) They have issued a statement following statements by Ghebreyesus in which they "ask the government and research centers to reject the funds of entities financed by the tobacco industry as FSFW." "If Phillp Morris really wanted to end the smoke, what he would have to do is stop selling all his products."
In particular, the WHO text contains several points specifically dedicated to the tobacco industry. The isolation already appears from the preamble of the text, which highlights "the special contribution made by non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society not affiliated with the tobacco industry. [...] have contributed to tobacco control activities nationally and internationally. "To then indicate" the need to maintain vigilance in the face of any attempt by the tobacco industry to undermine or distort tobacco control activities, and need to be informed of the actions of the tobacco industry that negatively affect tobacco control activities ".
Already in the articles, in 5.3, the idea of avoiding pressures from the sector is insisted on. "When establishing and implementing their public health policies related to tobacco control, the parties [los firmantes] they will act in a way that protects those policies against the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry. "In addition to establishing that promotion costs will be controlled and all information will be disclosed.
In 2012, PAHO (the American branch of WHO), warned its members that "proposing weaker legislation, blocking the approval of rules, creating controversy in the media, using groups such as tobacco growers are some examples of strategies that are usually applied before laws of control are passed. Once these laws have been approved, the strategies of the industry are to start litigation before national courts, to seek amendments that weaken the rule, to undermine its implementation or to block its regulation, among others.
The idea was reinforced by the WHO in 2016, when it stated that "it did not commit anything to the tobacco industry." And in 2017, before the creation of the Phillip Morris Foundation, it established that the guidelines for the development of the article 5.3 of the convention "clearly states that governments must limit interactions with the tobacco industry and reject alliances with them. In addition, they state that governments should not accept financial or other contributions from the tobacco industry or from entities and individuals that work to promote their interests. "
The consequence of this prohibition is that neither the Administrations nor the scientific societies of countries such as Spain participate in any act, work, press conference or debate in which the tobacco companies participate.
Industry sources defend that their new products seek to reduce harm to nicotine addicts, which are legal and compare this controversy to what was 30 years ago with the harm reduction policies of other addictions, such as heroin with methadone and rooms to inject safely.