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Gates and Bloomberg give $4 million to fight tobacco



It comes to something when you need two of the world’s richest philanthropists to fight big tobacco’s well-coordinated attempts to use international law to force developing countries to allow unfettered sales of a product that causes the death of half its users.

The $4 million (£2.7m) Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund will help governments that pass tough anti-smoking laws defend themselves against trade suits and increase public awareness of legal threats from the tobacco industry.

Big tobacco is constrained by increasingly tight tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) regulation in developed countries. As a result they have sought new markets where public health education and public health are weak and governments are too poor to fight legal battles to prevent the sale of such products. This was explored by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight.

Michael Bloomberg said in a statement, “We are at a critical moment in the global effort to reduce tobacco use, because the significant gains we have seen are at risk of being undermined by the tobacco industry’s use of trade agreements and litigation.” He went on to say, “We will stand with nations as they work to protect their populations against the deadly health effects of tobacco use.”

Between them, to the two billionaires are worth $115 billion (£78 billion) with the global tobacco market worth at least $450 billion (£305 billion). A 2013 WHO report stated that, “Although precise calculations have not been made, the best estimate is that the tobacco industry spends tens of billions of US dollars worldwide each year on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. In the United States alone, the tobacco industry spends more than US$ 10 billion annually on TAPS activities.”

On a straightforward cost benefit analysis it makes economic sense that big tobacco would invest a few billion to fight laws that restrict their product’s sale. Bloomberg and Gates might need to dig a lot deeper in the coming years if they really want to halt big tobacco’s legal fight to spread use of their drug.

A useful resource on all things tobacco-related is The Tobacco Atlas, which states, “We stand at a crossroads of the tobacco epidemic, with the future in our hands. We can choose to stand aside and take weak and ineffective measures, or instead to implement robust and enduring measures to protect the health and wealth of nations.”

Photo: Jocelyn via Flickr

Further reading:

Boeing to develop sustainable biofuel from tobacco plants

Labour Party Conference: Ed Miliband promises to increase tax on big tobacco to fund NHS

Not just unethical, tobacco is a financially unsustainable investment

Essex council admits hypocrisy in tobacco investment