Michael Bloomberg to launch $20-million anti-tobacco watchdog

07 March 2018 - 08:31 By Katharine Child
Michael Bloomberg poses after he was appointed Special Envoy for Climate Action UN by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters on March 5, 2018 in New York.
Michael Bloomberg poses after he was appointed Special Envoy for Climate Action UN by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters on March 5, 2018 in New York.
Image: KENA BETANCUR / AFP

The war is on between former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and South Africa's Derek Yach over efforts to stop a billion people smoking and avoid millions of preventable deaths.

As the world’s largest tobacco control conference kicks off in Africa for the first time on Wednesday‚ Bloomberg has pledged 20-million dollars to fight against tobacco companies and Yach's organisation‚ which is funded by a tobacco company.

Bloomberg's donation is a direct response to Yach's new organisation‚ Foundation for a Smoke Free World‚ that is funded by a billion-dollar donation from Phillip Morris International cigarette company‚ the maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

Foundation for a Smoke Free World aims to help people quit smoking or switch to vaping‚ which it says is a healthier alternative to cigarettes.

But Bloomberg and the World Health Organisation have warned scientists to have nothing to do with an organisation that takes money from a cigarette company.

Bloomberg's $20-million donation‚ announced on Wednesday morning‚ has been used to set up a new global organisation‚ Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP)‚ that will "aggressively monitor deceptive tobacco industry tactics and practices to undermine efforts to stop smoking".

Bloomberg doesn’t trust cigarette companies or the science they produce or NGOs they fund.

"For decades‚ tobacco giants have tried to deceive the public with duplicitous tactics‚" he said in a press release.

Bloomberg said the organisation “Foundation for a Smoke-Free World” is seen as a “thinly veiled effort” to legitimise the tobacco industry and allow them access to government’s policy-making table.

Yach told TimesLIVE that his foundation is independent of the billion dollars in funding from Phillip Morris International and that it was set up independently under US law.

He believes millions of lives can be saved if smokers switch to e-cigarettes.

But Bloomberg hit back and accused the tobacco industry of pushing alternative products‚ such as heat-not-burn and e-cigarettes‚ saying there wasn’t enough science to support vaping as a way to quit smoking.

"Tobacco industry-funded research has repeatedly been a smokescreen for behaviour that has led to worse outcomes for smokers‚" read a press release from STOP.

For decades‚ tobacco giants have tried to deceive the public with duplicitous tactics
Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg said: “Over the last decade tobacco control measures [such as sin taxes and advertising bans] have saved nearly 35 million lives‚ but as more cities and countries take action‚ the tobacco industry is pushing to find new users‚ particularly among young people."

He suggested that e-cigarettes are being used by industry as a way to attract more smokers.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom‚ also in Cape Town for the World Conference on Tobacco or Health‚ said “STOP is a warning call to Big Tobacco that they are on notice.”

“The World Health Organization and our partners will not accept efforts to undermine the huge successes in tobacco control that we have achieved over the past few decades. There is no going back.”

The World Conference on Tobacco or Health starts on Wednesday‚ bringing 2‚000 global scientists and policy makers together to work out ways to stop the tobacco industry from expanding.

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