Tobacco lobby threatens to derail global antismoking treatyBMJ 2005; 330 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7487.325 (Published 10 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:325
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The strategy and practices of the tobacco industry to counter public health measures to decrease smoking and exposure of nonsmokers to cigarette smoke have been well publicized [1-5]. The News item “Tobacco lobby threatens to derail global antismoking treaty” (12 February 2005), mentions that WHO member states agreed to invite non-governmental organizations to meetings of a future treaty secretariat, and that they also agreed that “a screening mechanism was needed to keep out pseudoactivists in the pay of the tobacco industry.” This provides the backdrop for us to report the recent and still unfinished story of the Rodin Foundation in Belgium.
This foundation (http://www.rodin foundation.org) is a non-profit organization (according to Belgian law) founded in 2000, partly at the initiative of Belgium’s finance minister, with funds from the tobacco industry, at 1,850,000 EURO per year for 6 years. Its stated objectives are to inform, prevent and conduct research in the field of addictions, including smoking. An investigative journalist exposed, among other features, that the precise terms of the contracts linking the Rodin Foundation to the tobacco companies were secret . The Rodin Foundation has been trying to obtain a status of “organization of public utility”, however, without success so far.
University researchers, public health agencies and local health promotion associations from French-speaking Belgium warned against this initiative in an “open letter” . Briefly, the letter exposed the fact that the Rodin Foundation received a large amount of money from the tobacco industry; it explained that many respected institutions, such as the WHO, have pledged that they would not accept funds from the tobacco industry, because of this industry’s record in the field of public health; it proposed that such funds should go to truly independent research bodies.
The Rodin Foundation reacted strongly. For two months its website contained (as the sole item) a virulent attack not so much against the content of the open letter (the source of financing could not be denied), but mainly against its first signatory, Danielle Piette, a sociologist, professor from the School of Public Health at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. She was erroneously accused of spreading unfounded rumours, of having involved colleagues without properly informing them, of being an isolated academic in an ivory tower. The foundation, represented by one of the most prestigious law firms in Brussels, also threatened a legal action for defamation against her. Although the case was never commenced – thanks, in part, to the new president of the Rodin Foundation –, the intimidation effect of the threat was major, not only towards her, but also towards the whole sector.
This is a further example of the tactics adopted by the tobacco industry or organisations dependent on it for their funding against individuals who denounce its strategies. Fortunately, Danielle Piette received support from many colleagues within her institution and elsewhere. However, no real support campaign could be launched for fear of more litigation.
As suggested by the WHO, universities should adopt policies banning collaboration with the tobacco industry and its more or less covert representatives.
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2. Neuman M, Bitton A, Glantz S, Tobacco industry strategies for influencing European Community tobacco advertising legislation. Lancet, 2002, 359, 1323-30
3. Chung PJ, Garfield CF, Rathouz PJ, Lauderdale DS, Best D, Lantos J. Youth targeting by tobacco manufacturers since the Master Settlement Agreement. The first study to document violations of the youth-targeting ban in magazine ads by the three top U.S. tobacco companies. Health Affairs, 2002, 21, 254-263
4. Diethelm PA, Rielle J-C, McKee M. The whole truth and nothing but the truth? The research that Philip Morris did not want you to see. Lancet, 2004, 364, published online Nov 11, 2004
5. World Health Association. Seeing beneath the surface. The truth about the tobacco industry’s youth smoking prevention programmes. 2002. http://www.wpro.who.int/tfi/docs/PressReleases/Seeing_bneath_d_surface.pdf
6. Teugels M. Rook boven Rodin [Smoke above Rodin]. Knack magazine. 28 May 2003.
7. “Tabac: non à la naïveté” published on 4 June 2002, in “La Libre Belgique” (http://www.lalibre.be/article.phtml?id=12&subid=124&art_id=64625), and in “Le Journal du Médecin” 31 May 2002
Benoit Nemery, Department of Public Health and Division of Pneumology, K.U.Leuven, Leuven, Belgium (email@example.com); Head of Assembly “Occupation and Epidemiology” of the European Respiratory Society
Luk Joossens, Tobacco Control Expert, Belgian Federation against Cancer
Pierre Bartsch, President of «Fondation des Affections Respiratoires» (FARES), Brussels, Belgium
Paul Vermeire, President of «Vlaamse Vereniging voor Respiratoire Gezondheidszorg en Tuberculosebestrijding» (VRGT), Brussels, Belgium
Vincent Ninane, President of the Belgian Thoracic Society
Competing interests: B. Nemery is the husband of D. Piette.
Competing interests: No competing interests