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Letter to the World Health Organization

September 29, 2017

This is a letter sent by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World founder and president-designate Dr. Derek Yach, on September 29, 2017, to officials at the World Health Organization to correct the mischaracterizations the World Health Organization has made about the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.

Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva
World Health Organization
WHO Headquarters Avenue Appia 20
1211
Geneva 27

Dear Dr. Costa e Silva,

I’m writing to you in my capacity as founder of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (Foundation), and as a long-standing tobacco control advocate who, as you know, was extensively involved in the development of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The Foundation aims to work with others committed to accelerating the end of smoking among the world’s one billion smokers, and ensure we are ready to address the consequences of reduced tobacco use for millions of tobacco farmers.

While I and others involved in the Foundation strongly support the FCTC and the mission of WHO, we were surprised and deeply disappointed by your press releases, dated September 19, 2017 and September 28, 2017, which mischaracterize the nature, structure and purpose of the Foundation.

I’d like to respectfully correct some of the more significant misperceptions WHO seems to have regarding the Foundation. My hope is that, upon reflection and consideration of the facts, you will remove the press releases from your website, at least until we have an opportunity for dialogue and WHO is able to complete proper due diligence on the Foundation.

The Foundation is an independent non-profit organization which, through its governing documents, has fully insulated itself from the influence of the tobacco industry. The Foundation would certainly welcome WHO and others to scrutinize our independence when we develop a research agenda -- which will be open to input from the public health community and subject to peer review -- and begin our work. However, it is premature for you to judge our independence and attempt to characterize our activities at this point.

You wrongly assert that the Foundation intends to breach the WHO FCTC, and specifically Article 5.3. However, the goals and objectives of the Foundation are squarely in line with WHO’s mission, the FCTC and Article 5.3. Our goal is not, as you claim, to interfere in public policy or to advance corporate interests. Rather, the Foundation aims to collaboratively research and build consensus on the mix of initiatives that the evidence base demonstrates will most rapidly and effectively eliminate harm and deaths from smoking around the world. With more than 7 million smoking-related deaths a year, I’m sure we can agree there is an urgent need to do more to find new, scientifically validated ways to stop smoking. Recent advances in a range of technologies create the opportunity to disrupt the tobacco sector in ways that enhance health.

The Foundation is and will remain legally, operationally and philosophically distinct and separate from the tobacco industry. I would not have it any other way. Yet, your press releases unfairly attempt to discredit the Foundation at its inception, and do so without the sort of due diligence the Framework of Engagement with non-state Actors calls upon WHO to conduct. If WHO had properly conducted such due diligence, WHO would have learned that, as a separate legal entity, the Foundation is not controlled by the tobacco industry, and, as a philanthropic foundation, it is explicitly prohibited from working to advance the commercial interests of its funders.

The Certificate of Incorporation and the Bylaws are the fundamental legal documents for any Foundation. Both documents are publicly available for review and comment on our website, www.smoke-freeworld.org. The Certificate defines the Foundation’s intended operations and, in Article Third, it clearly states the Foundation shall be operated exclusively for charitable, scientific and educational purposes.1 It also commits that we will support independent scientific research free from the influence of any commercial entity that may be affected by the research outcome. The Bylaws of the Foundation could not be any clearer in declaring that, with respect to its independent research agenda and other activities, the Foundation must pay no heed to the impact of its work on the tobacco industry.

To further underscore the Foundation’s independence, and its resolution to be free from influences not in line with its mission, the Foundation’s Bylaws specifically provide in Article IX, Scientific Integrity, that the Foundation shall operate “in a manner that ensures the Corporation’s freedom and independence from the influence of any commercial entity.” This Bylaw requires the Foundation to act freely and independently from any commercial enterprise, clearly including the tobacco industry.

Moreover, as part of its independent research agenda, the goal of the Foundation is to promote and support significant scientific research that advances the field of tobacco harm reduction and reduces the public health burden of smoking-related diseases. On this exact issue, the Bylaws provide adamantly as follows: “The Corporation shall not take into account the potential impact of that research on the image of the tobacco industry or any other industry or commercial entity.”

Clearly, the Foundation’s purpose comports with Article 5.3 of the FCTC, the aim of which is to protect against interference not only by the tobacco industry but also, as appropriate, by organizations that advance the interests of the tobacco industry. (“Guidelines for Implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”) The Foundation’s explicit purpose is to support harm reduction and reduce the public health burden of smoking-related diseases – which is totally aligned with WHO’s goals.

If, after you have had a chance to observe the transparent and collaborative manner in which the Foundation will function and the many ways it will seek to end the public health threat of smoking, you still feel the Foundation doesn’t align with both the spirit and the letter of the FCTC, then, by all means, raise the point. But taking action now is premature. Let us rather focus our combined energies on reducing smoking.

In the spirit of collaboration and dialogue, I invite you to meet in person in the next few weeks to discuss the Foundation’s plans, structure and intent. In the meantime, should you have further questions, please let me know and, again, I would very much appreciate your removal of the press releases from your website until you have been able to complete proper due diligence on the Foundation.

Sincerely,
Dr. Derek Yach

cc: Dr. Ian Smith; Dr. Douglas Bettcher

1 To further bolster this requirement, the Foundation intends to file for tax-exempt status with the United States Internal Revenue Service.