TOBACCO RISK REDUCTION: ERA petitions UNN, warns against Biotech Centre’s romance with Foundation

…Foundation is an independent body – Philip Morris

By Agbonkhese Oboh

THE Environmental Rights Action, ERA, has cautioned South-East Centre for Biotechnology and University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, against collaborating with Foundation for Smoke-Free World, saying any proposal from the Foundation is an attempt by Philip Morris International, PMI, to boost its credibility as a legitimate stakeholder in discussions about tobacco risk reduction.

ERA petitioned UNN’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Benjamin Ozumba, with copies sent to President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Ministers of Education and Health, Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, and the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, cautioning that the institution risks undermining its reputation and credibility by associating with the Foundation.

The Centre, domiciled at the UNN, is the South-East regional office of International Centre for Biotechnology, ICB, a Category II Centre under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, to support alternative livelihoods for Africa’s smallholder tobacco farmers.

In the petition, ERA said: “The Foundation’s communications are currently targeting low-income, low-prevalence countries, where reduced risk products represent a new business opportunity for PMI’s tobacco products and not a solution to the tobacco epidemic.

“If research institutes in other parts of the world have distanced themselves from the PMI-funded Foundation,” it said, “there is no reason UNN should continue to play ostrich to calls to make public what it has going on with the Foundation.”

PIM, Centre react

However, in a reaction, PMI told Sunday Vanguard that it has no say in what the Foundation does, as it is an independent body.

In a reply to an e-mail, Iro Antoniadou of PMI’s Media Office said: “The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World is a self-governed organisation with an independent Board of Directors. Its activities, governance and research agenda is defined independently by its Directors.

“As such, Philip Morris International has no visibility to programme proposals or requests for funding. Please contact the Foundation directly with your enquiry.”

But the Foundation did not respond to Sunday Vanguard’s request for comment.

When we contacted UNN’s VC’s office, one Mr. Chibueze Nweze directed us   to an official of the Centre, Mrs Chinwe Nwokolo, who further directed Sunday Vanguard to Mr. Chiadikobi Onyia, who said: “Please, I have gone through your research area and find that what you want is not what we can help(sic). Thanks.”

WHO’s take

Meanwhile, in September 2017, PMI announced it was funding the Foundation to the tune of USD $1 billion over a 12-year period beginning in 2018. The Foundation was formed to promote research into “reduced-risk” products currently being developed and marketed by PMI and other tobacco companies.

Reacting, the World Health Organisation, WHO, warned its global partners to keep a safe distance from the Foundation, insisting its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, WHO FCTC— and not PMI’s alleged ‘harm reduction’ business strategy or its Foundation— represent global consensus on how to prevent and reduce tobacco use and associated death and disease.

Interestingly, some institutions heeded WHO’s call. The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the International Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control, American Cancer Society, World Heart Federation, Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada, among others, denounced the PMI initiative.

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