Intended for healthcare professionals


WHO faces up to its tobacco links

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 05 August 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:314

Report provides compelling evidence for transparency about competing interests

  1. Fiona Godlee (, editorial director (medicine)
  1. BioMed Central, London W1P 6LB

    Five years ago I wrote a critique of the World Health Organization in the BMJ.1 One of my sources was a report by an American economist, Richard Tollison, which tore apart the WHO's budgetary priorities. Tollison's main claim was that too little of the WHO's money was spent on improving health in the developing world.2 One statement quoted in the BMJ ran, “The poorest nations in WHO are interested in basic public health, and not in the more exotic forays of WHO into the public health issues of the modern industrialised West.”3 What I and the BMJ and its readers didn't know, because the report didn't say, was that Tollison was in the pay of British American Tobacco. Nor did we know that such covert funding of “independent” commentators was just one part of an elaborate campaign by the tobacco industry to discredit the WHO and divert money and attention away from tobacco control activities.

    The WHO has been concerned for some time about the poor success of its anti-tobacco initiatives. The forced disclosure last year of 35 million pages of confidential tobacco industry documents alerted the WHO to the possibility of direct interference and led its director general, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, to set …

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