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Geneva, Switzerland, May 5. The World Heart Federation (WHF) supports the call to the United Nations (UN) to include the tobacco industry misinformation in the efforts to battle the COVID-19 “misinfodemic.” The call is embodied in a letter dated April 30, 2020, wherein 52 public health movers from all over the world wrote to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to call out tobacco industry manipulations to mask the estimated USD 460 billion annual burden it causes to the global healthcare system.
Through the open letter, the global public health community condemned the tobacco industry’s role in the spread of health messages that sow confusion such as those that promote smoking or vaping during the COVID-19 pandemic. The tobacco industry, known for undermining scientific evidence and deceiving the public, has reportedly branded itself as part of the solution, maximized visibility of its donations and at the same time, lobbied to deem cigarettes as essential goods despite lockdown restrictions and sought tax privileges for its deadly products.
“While the world’s scientists and healthcare workers race to prevent more death and damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, the tobacco industry appears to be in its own race to spread misinformation about smoking and transmission”, observes Chair of the WHF Tobacco Expert Group Dr Eduardo Bianco. “We must be vigilant in calling out the tobacco industry’s misleading claims and disingenuous donations to governments, which undermine critical messages for fostering healthy populations.”
The said letter was a response to Secretary-General António Guterres’s statement launching the United Nations COVID-19 Communications Response initiative to counter the global “misinfodemic”. The group also called on the UN offices to adopt the Model policy for agencies of the United Nations system on preventing tobacco industry interference which was designed to prevent the tobacco industry from gaining credibility by associating itself with the UN or accessing governments through the UN offices.
The global tobacco control treaty refers to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which is also embodied in Target 3.A (Health) of the Sustainable Development Goals. It includes provisions that promise health and economic gains including potential for health/development financing that could form part of a comprehensive response to the devastating socioeconomic consequences of COVID-19. A distinct feature of the WHO FCTC is the governments’ obligation to protect public health policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry (Article 5.3). WHO FCTC Article 13 requires a comprehensive ban on tobacco industry advertising promotion and sponsorship, including the so-called Corporate Social Responsibility and donations.
The joint global effort was coordinated by Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP), a global tobacco industry watchdog that has been monitoring, among others, the tobacco industry’s efforts to influence global policy through UN agencies and governments.
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About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)
STOP is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose the tobacco industry strategies and tactics that undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and is a partnership between The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control and Vital Strategies. Learn more at exposetobacco.org.
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