Bloomberg Philanthropies Honors Tobacco Control Organizations

by Stan Shatenstein

Bloomberg Philanthropies hosted the third Bloomberg Philanthropies Awards for Global Tobacco Control as part of the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi last week. The Awards were created to recognise governments and non-governmental organizations demonstrating excellent progress or achievement in the implementation of MPOWER measures in low-and middle-income countries.

MPOWER, established by the WHO and consistent with the WHO FCTC, describes six of the most effective tobacco control measures: Monitoring the epidemic and prevention policies; Protecting people from second-hand smoke; Offering help to people who want to quit; Warning about the dangers of tobacco; Enforcing bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and Raising taxes and prices. A panel of global tobacco control experts selected the winners.

This was the first time there were honorees in all six MPOWER categories. After the third award of the night, Bloomberg was joined by independent TV presenter, Mona Ibellini, for an on-stage conversation. The two came together awkwardly, centre stage and, when Ibellini hesitated, Bloomberg bemused and philosophical asked, “Why are we here?”

The audience enjoyed the early banter, but the two settled into a casual yet informative dialogue, with Bloomberg responding to a first question about his generosity by noting that while Bloomberg Philanthropies have spent $600 million fighting to lessen the damage wrought by tobacco use, the industry is spending $6 billion annually and, as Bloomberg noted, “this year, they’ll sell more tobacco products than any other year. If that isn’t impetus for change, what is?”

In response to a question from Ibellini about New York City, the former three-term mayor, who used his position to push through aggressive tobacco control measures against strong resistance, noted that it’s now rare to see smokers huddled outside buildings, the norm having changed. “And if you do, they’re so embarrassed, they put [the cigarette] behind their back.”

Bloomberg then announced the launch of the Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund, a new joint effort to combat the tobacco industry’s use of international trade agreements to threaten and prevent countries from passing strong tobacco-control laws. Backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the new support for low and middle-income countries is the most recent element in a comprehensive strategy to reduce tobacco use globally.

After describing the tremendous pressure placed on Uruguay, one of the evening’s honorees and under double legal assault from the tobacco industry, Bloomberg received a strong round of applause for noting that, while the country of just 3 million people could be forced to withdraw measures due to an inability to match the industry’s funds, “We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Numerous countries have been threatened with legal action by the tobacco industry, a tactic that can lead to delays by governments in passing and implementing the best-practice tobacco control laws. In addition to supporting countries facing suit before international trade tribunals, the Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund includes:

  • Technical assistance in legislative drafting and documentation to avoid legal challenges and potential trade disputes from the passage of tobacco-control laws
  • Support of global best practices in tobacco control and coordinated efforts to document industry wrongdoing
  • Litigation support to low- and middle-income countries to help defend laws in the form of financial support and access to high quality legal assistance
  • Communications support to educate and inform the public about the industry challenges to tobacco control policy and abuse of the trade system
  • Assistance in accessing knowledgeable tobacco control experts and mobilizing support among the global public health community to help countries defend against tobacco industry litigation
  • Creation of a network of senior lawyers, experienced in trade litigation to support countries

A complete list of award winners can be found here.