April 29, 2021

New paper: PMI’s toxic influence on science and research journals

Cigarette butts smushed down into an astray.

Imagine you pick up a scientific research journal. And then you discover that two of the guest editors work for a research institution funded by the largest tobacco corporation in the world. Would you trust that journal anymore?

We uncovered this situation while conducting research for “Paying lip service to publication ethics: scientific publishing practices and the Foundation for a Smoke-Free world,” an article we co-published today in Tobacco Control at the British Medical Journal, in partnership with the University of Bath and the STOP program. The piece looks at how Philip Morris International (PMI) uses the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW) to advance its science and research agenda, and create a rosy outlook for its new generation of tobacco products.

The findings make clear that despite the conflicting interests between the driver of a deadly epidemic and the public health community, Big Tobacco continues to exert influence in key research publications. And its toxic imprints are becoming increasingly difficult to detect.

The article underscores what we’ve always believed about FSFW: that the foundation is PMI’s attempt to distance itself from the deadly epidemic it’s driven and profited from, in order to create a favorable landscape for its next generation of products. PMI launched FSFW in 2017, granting the foundation $80 million annually over the next 12 years, while claiming “independence” from the foundation. The purported focus of the foundation was to advance public health.

But from its inception, health leaders across the globe have voiced criticism of FSFW’s intentions. The World Health Organization stated it would not partner with the foundation, and recommended that governments follow their lead. The American Cancer Society called FSFW “manipulative and dangerous.” And tens of thousands of people from around the word demanded PMI stop funding PR schemes and pay for its abuses.

Our deep dive into the interactions between FSFW and several public health and science journals further confirm that our suspicions are true. Over the past few years, the foundation submitted papers without disclosing its financial ties to PMI. It retained PMI’s PR firm to negotiate editorial privileges in special issues on tobacco control policy. And it weaseled tobacco industry-friendly articles into reputable publications through its web of grantees – many of which have also neglected to mention the foundation, and therefore PMI, as a funder.

The paper also provides clear policies that journals can implement right now to better protect against the smoke and mirrors of the tobacco industry and its affiliates.

We must keep a close eye on the actions of FSFW and equip editors to protect journals from Big Tobacco’s deadly influence. We will continue to shine the spotlight on PMI’s thinly veiled front group, and expose its campaign to misinform the public amid a respiratory pandemic.

You can read the full article about the ways in which the foundation is forcing its way into the spaces that are critical for protecting the public and improving our health.

Demand that the American Public Health Association join with public health organizations around the world in rejecting any engagement or collaboration with Big Tobacco, or any organizations funded by the industry.

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