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WHO accuses tobacco industry of undermining no smoking campaign

No-smoking campaigns have put tobacco companies on the offensive, claims a WHO report Keystone

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has accused the tobacco industry of undermining its efforts to combat smoking. In a damning report, a Swiss public health official said tobacco companies tried to "discredit and impede" the WHO's anti-smoking campaign.

The report is the result of an inquiry by a panel of experts, led by the director of the Swiss Public Health Office, Thomas Zeltner. It catalogues a plethora of underhand tactics used by the tobacco industry to sabotage anti-smoking efforts and to damage the WHO’s reputation.

The report claims that “tobacco companies viewed the WHO as one of their leading enemies”, and tried to “divert attention from public health issues, to reduce budgets for the WHO’s scientific and policy activities [and] to pit other United Nations agencies against the WHO”.

The authors further allege that “experts” in the pay of the tobacco industry sought to “distort the results of important scientific studies on tobacco”.

The report is a damning indictment of the lengths to which tobacco firms will go to protect their industry. The report says they even infiltrated the WHO’s offices in Geneva to gather inside information on the agency’s efforts to stop people from smoking.

According to the Washington Post newspaper, much of the information contained in the report comes from tobacco company documents, which were made public through court cases in the United States.

In an interview with the Post, David Davies, a vice-president of leading tobacco firm Philip Morris International, admitted that some of these tactics had been tried in the past, but said they were not used any longer.

He added that the documents “are the product of a polarised and unproductive environment in which few solutions were sought, and conflict prevailed over consensus”.

To substantiate its claims, the report focuses on a 1988 meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, where tobacco bosses allegedly planned their attack on the WHO. The report claims that the so-called Boca Raton plan was a “master plan” targeting the “structure, management and resources of the WHO”.

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