Groups slam Bloomberg for sponsoring anti-public health policies at WHO tobacco conference

Screenshot 2024-02-08 at 8.38.01 PM

PANAMA CITY—Harm reduction advocates denounce Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity foundation of US billionaire Michael Bloomberg, for exerting influence on governments and health authorities in low and middle-income countries to deny smokers with potentially life-saving less harmful smoke-free alternatives, as the delegates to the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) continue to meet in Panama to discuss novel and emerging tobacco products.

Michael Bloomberg

The worst impact of Bloomberg funding is “the interruption of smoking cessation efforts in countries in the global south with high smoking rates and where relatively lower amounts of money will buy relatively more influence,” Will Godfrey, executive director of FILTER, a group advocating for rational and compassionate approaches to drug policy and human rights, said.

“I do think it’s sickening that so many people in these countries are being deprived of their best chance to quit cigarettes and to see Bloomberg-affiliated groups actually celebrating the bans that accomplish it,” he added.

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA), a US non-profit advocacy group, is hosting “GOOD COP/BAD COP,” where leading voices on consumer issues, national and global policies, and harm reduction representing 14 countries are given a platform to discuss relevant issues on tobacco control. The event is deliberately being held on the sidelines of the ongoing COP meeting where participation has been stringently limited and where advocates with a view different from the WHO like Godfrey have been grappling to be included.

Advocates criticized Bloomberg Philanthropies’ policy interventions in countries such as Mexico, India, Kenya, and Pakistan, including its efforts to block essential legislation in the Philippines.

Tomás O’Gorman, co-founder of Pro-Vapeo Mexico, highlighted the stagnation of smoking rates in Mexico in the absence of harm reduction practices. He attributed the push for vaping bans to the influence of the Bloomberg Initiative.

He said the Mexican president even proposed an amendment to the Mexican Constitution to ban the commercialization of vaping products.  “We all know that the prohibitionist idea or the prohibitionist narrative comes mainly from the Bloomberg Initiative.  I was quite surprised that on the first day of the COP, the Mexican delegate acknowledged when he took the floor, that they were having the support of the Bloomberg Initiative,” he said.

“There have been several indications that foreign NGOs are the ones dictating how should Mexico proceed regarding the regulation of these products,” O’Gorman said. “I believe that Mexico is following the suggestions and the policies that have been created by these foreign entities in order to ban vaping and THR products in LMICs.”

Dr. Rohan Andrede de Sequeira, a professor of Medicine in India, criticized the pressure from organizations linked to Bloomberg Philanthropies to reject harm reduction principles, emphasizing the urgent need for India to make its own decisions regarding tobacco control.

“So if any country practically needs a THR policy, it would be India because this is where it would have the biggest impact,” he said. “What is really needed right now is for the country to make its own decision rather than be bullied by some major organizations They need to look at their own population.”

Dr. de Sequeira said India even received an award from the World Health Organization for banning vaping.  “I would call it pernicious influence because that is influencing your politics?” he said, despite the fact that India had 1.2 million deaths last year due to smoking.

“I don’t think that what Bloomberg is doing is legitimate. He’s putting money into a cause that he believes is justified. The problem is that he’s not subjected to any accountability, and it is affecting the democratization of the society,” said Dr. Roberto Sussman, a senior researcher at the Institute of Nuclear Sciences at the National University of Mexico. “Second, it is a massive conflict of interest,” he added.

Jeannie Cameron, CEO of UK-based strategic advocacy group JCIC International said that in the Philippines, Bloomberg-funded groups were caught trying to influence the government policy during the enactment of the Vape Law. “They were actually caught writing policy to the government, which was against the Constitution of the country. And they reacted very badly to that,” she said.

Martin Cullip, an international fellow at TPA’s Consumer Center, criticized Bloomberg-funded groups for their efforts to restrict nicotine pouches in markets with heavy smoking rates such as Kenya and Pakistan, labeling such actions as detrimental to public health and driven by ideology.

“These seem to me very good markets for nicotine pouches because they’re low cost and they can get in places where there’s heavy smoking rates, and yet they seem to be trying to damage the potential market in Pakistan and Kenya and trying to get the government to kick those products out and prohibit them, which is so anti-public health. This is ideological and it is damaging,” said Cullip.

According to an article published by The Lancet authored by Robert Beaglehole and Ruth Bonita, one of the oldest peer-reviewed medical journals, tobacco harm reduction should be a central strategy of the WHO FCTC in addition to the measures for demand and supply reduction which are necessary, but not sufficient. The WHO’s lack of endorsement of tobacco harm reduction limits healthier choices for 1.3 billion people globally who smoke and who are at an increased risk of early death.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular



Welcome to 24SHARE Updates!

Please verify your age to enter.
By entering this site you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy