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August 28, 2019

FSFW more interested in research than advocacy

Islamabad

August 28, 2019

Islamabad: The international tobacco industry-funded Foundation for Smoke-free World (FSFW), which has built its image as an entity working on tobacco control, has not coopted any tobacco control actors in Pakistan as its initial focus is on research on the use of what it calls Harm Reduction Products (HRPs), or in other words, e-cigarettes, rather than advocacy.

Established in 2017 as an “independent, non-profit organization to accelerate global efforts to reduce health impacts and deaths from smoking, with the goal of eliminating smoking worldwide as soon as possible,” the FSFW is funded by Phillip Morris International (PMI). The focus on FSFW, which was set up by Dr. Derek Yach, “a global health expert and anti-smoking advocate for more than 30 years,” initially remains on research, and not advocacy.

“We are alive to the fact that FSFW tries to present itself as a tobacco control initiative, which it is not,” said Khurram Hashmi, National Coordinator of the Coalition for Tobacco Control (CTC) Pakistan, which monitors tactics of tobacco industry in Pakistan. He shared that FSFW has commissioned research in Pakistan on the status and use of HRPs or e-cigarettes. They have also invested funds in research on providing alternatives to tobacco farming. “However, although FSFW has attracted researchers, it is still deficient in gathering advocacy-based organizations or those involved in policy research. The trend is similar to the years of PMI practice of muddling the waters through research and creating a confusion in the policy-makers’ minds,” Khurram pointed out.

E-cigarettes are legally imported into Pakistan from China. Most of the e-cigarette vendors are based in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, as their use is currently limited to well-off sections of the society, mainly because of high prices. An e-cigarette device costs between Rs3,000-20,000 in Pakistan.

An analysis of the FSFW funding published in The Lancet in June 2019 maintained, “the Foundation should be seen neither as an independent organization nor as a primarily scientific one,” and suggests that “it might be having difficulty convincing researchers and potential funders of its legitimacy and independence as a scientific body.”

The analysis adds that one year on, PMI remains the sole funder of the Foundation. “Of the $80 million annual donation from PMI, the Foundation spent $6.46 million on research grants in 2018, $7.59 million on communications (a major chunk of which was spent on public relations organizations), and $7.03 million on staffing. An amount of $47.45 million remains unspent. With only a further $19.2 million of grant funding identified as approved for future payment, the Foundation appears to be struggling to fund research, using the money it has received from the tobacco industry.”

Pakistan has more than 24 million tobacco users who are consuming cigarettes, water pipes, ‘sheesha,’ ‘gutka’ and ‘naswar.’

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