Centre cautions states on tie-up with Foundation for a Smoke-Free World
India’s health ministry has advised all the state governments against partnering with the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) because of its links to tobacco giant Philip Morris International Inc, a letter seen by Reuters shows.
Established in 2017, the FSFW focuses on eliminating the use of cigarettes and works towards the eradication of smoking using new technologies and alternative products. It says it works independently, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said there are “clear conflicts” because of the $80-million the foundation receives annually from Philip Morris.
At least three Indian anti-tobacco groups had earlier this year written to the Union health ministry calling for the rejection of any possible partnerships with FSFW, according to copies of their representations seen by Reuters.
The health ministry has sent a letter, dated June 24, to the chief secretaries of all the states, saying their governments should not partner with FSFW. The ministry said Philip Morris was funding FSFW as well as manufacturing and promoting harm-reduction smoking devices.
Reuters has previously reported that Philip Morris has plans to launch its iQOS smoking device in India, which it says is less harmful than conventional cigarettes.
“Any collaboration with the Foundation for a Smoke Free World should be avoided in the larger interest of public health,” senior health ministry official Sanjeeva Kumar wrote in the letter.
The FSFW, which is led by former WHO official Dr Derek Yach, said it “operates with complete independence from Philip Morris” and was committed to full transparency about the sources of its funds.
Philip Morris, which has a stated long-term vision to replace cigarettes with products such as its iQOS device, in a statement said the FSFW was “an independent body governed by its own independent board of directors”.
In recent years, the Indian government has intensified its tobacco-control efforts, raising cigarette taxes and ordering companies to print bigger health warnings on cigarette packs.
India has 106 million adult smokers, second only to China, and more than 900,000 people die each year in India from tobacco-related illnesses.
A Union health ministry official said on Sunday that the letter on the FSFW had been sent to dissuade the states from any collaboration with the foundation, and similar instructions were likely to be sent to other Union ministries.
The FSFW said there were no projects with any state government institutions in India. “We seek partnerships with all who share our goal to end smoking in the world,” a spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters.
In May, the FSFW had said its team was committed to working with others “to accelerate an end to smoking in this generation” in India. It also invited people to study its strategic plan.
That same month, Philip Morris said in a media statement that it had urged the Indian government to create a regulatory environment for devices such as its iQOS.
When the FSFW was launched in 2017, the WHO had said it would not partner with the foundation and asked all governments to follow its lead.