Tuesday, December 5, 2023

A Foundational Call to Action


Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW).

The organization was founded in 2017 through a charitable gift from PMI Global Services.  Its mission is simple: “to end smoking in this generation.”  Its founders envision “a world in which combustible tobacco, other toxic forms of tobacco, and smoking-related death and disease are eliminated.”  Contrast that with the U.S. government’s vision of “a world free of tobacco use,” an incorrectly broader behavior blamed by the government for “cancer and suffering.”  

The FSFW not only has a firm grasp on the merits of tobacco harm reduction (THR); it also offers the only substantial funding (currently about $150 million) for legitimate, unbiased THR research. 

The Foundation recently named a new president and CEO, Clifford E. Douglas, whose anti-tobacco credentials are impressive.  He worked to eliminate smoking on airlines and college campuses, and he held high offices in the Coalition on Smoking and Health, the American Lung Association, and the American Cancer Society.  He most recently served as director of the University of Michigan Tobacco Research Network. 

As the FSFW board chair noted, “For decades Cliff Douglas has been a strong and influential voice in the work to eliminate smoking in America and globally.”  What is most remarkable is that Douglas differentiated and focused on the devastating toll of smoking, rather than the broader universe of tobacco use, the term used by prohibitionists to impugn all things tobacco- or nicotine-related.  In short, he came to recognize “emerging efforts around the world related to alternative nicotine products as a complement to traditional tobacco control measures.”

Since its creation, the FSFW has been dogged by claims that it is influenced by its founding sponsor, Philip Morris International.  Mr. Douglas has countered by terminating the receipt of PMI funds, pledging that the Foundation will no longer accept any support from the tobacco or non-medical nicotine industries.  “Any skepticism around our independence can be laid to rest,” he said.

Of course, prohibitionists never rest.  Deborah Arnott, CEO of UK Action on Smoking and Health, said, "Whether it's true or not, [Douglas] will be seen as pursuing PMI's agenda, not that of public health."  Yolonda Richardson, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, termed Douglas’s claim “ludicrous”. 

What’s truly ludicrous is that prohibitionists, wearing the sheep’s clothing of “public health”, oppose all funding of THR, no matter its source.  Since 1999, the universities employing me have administered small grants from tobacco companies to conduct THR research.  While this work would not have been possible without such support, attacks from within and outside these institutions have been never-ending.  To quote Carl Sandburg, “If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell” -- about the funding.

I sincerely hope that THR researchers and supporters will stand with Mr. Douglas to make the Foundation a beacon of honesty and accomplishment in the world of public health.


Note: For the past year, I have served as an outside grant reviewer for the FSFW.


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