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Smoke signals Ministry rebuked for taking tobacco money

Guests attend the opening ceremony of the new Swiss embassy building in Moscow

Critics argue that Philip Morris used the opening of the Swiss embassy to Moscow to sell products in the compound.

(Keystone/Yuri Kochetkov)

The Swiss foreign ministry is facing growing criticism over its deal to let the tobacco multinational Philip Morris act as co-sponsor of major events abroad.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) said it had contacted the Swiss authorities and was seeking a ban on tobacco-sponsored events at next year’s World Exhibition in the United Arab Emirates, confirming a report in the Tamedia group of newspapers.

“We will insist that the agreements [of the Bureau International des Expositions] are also respected at the Swiss pavilion in Dubai,” a WHO spokesman said.

The Bureau International des Expositionsexternal link is an intergovernmental organisation in charge of overseeing and regulating World Expos.

Philip Morris has pledged CH1.8 million ($1.8 million) towards the Swiss foreign ministry’s social activities.

The United States company reportedly also contributed CHF45,000 towards the opening ceremony of the new Swiss embassy to Moscow last month.

 Against prevention policy

More criticism of the foreign ministry’s sponsoring policy came from the Federal Office of Public Health, anti-addiction and anti-smoking pressure groups as well as politicians from several political parties.

“The cooperation with a tobacco company for the Expo in Dubai goes against our own prevention strategy,” the health office told the CH-Media group of newspapers last week.

The left-wing Social Democratic Party said it would launch a proposal to ban sponsoring by Philip Morris.

Both the foreign ministryexternal link and the tobacco company have dismissed the criticism of illicit sponsoring activities.

It was parliament which approved a proposal to have half of the CHF15 million for the Swiss pavilion provided by private sponsors, the ministry argues.

It adds that Philip Morrisexternal link is an important multinational with European headquarters in Switzerland.

The ministry is quoted as saying that it will do its utmost to avoid “the false impression that the Swiss government promotes tobacco products”.

For its part, the company will not promote cigarettes but a smoke-free surrogate product.

swissinfo.ch and Keystone-SDA/urs

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