By Dr. Kelly Henning, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Health team
Left unchecked, tobacco use will kill one billion people this century. It’s the most preventable cause of death in the world. But saving lives means more than just quitting smoking. It means pushing back against a powerful, wide-reaching global industry that spends tens of billions of dollars every single year to recruit tobacco users through aggressive marketing campaigns.
And although we’ve come a long way, smoking rates in the developing world are still above 40 percent. It’s young people and vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries who are the tobacco industry’s biggest targets.
That’s why earlier this year at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town, South Africa, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched a new global tobacco watchdog group known as STOP, or Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products, to shine a spotlight on big tobacco’s most underhanded tactics, including marketing directed at children and the developing world.
Today, we welcomed on board an incredible group of organizations that were chosen through a competitive application process to direct STOP. On their own, these organizations have decades of experience pushing back on big tobacco in every corner of the globe:
University of Bath is a top UK university that specializes in investigative tobacco research, and its affiliated UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies runs the indispensable research tool, tobaccotactics.org, that features over 750 profiles of individuals and entities linked to the industry.
The Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) based at Thammasat University’s School of Global Studies in Thailand, features South-East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) which produces the Tobacco Industry Interference Index, a survey of how public health policies in nine Southeast Asian countries are protected from the industry’s subversive efforts, and has pushed back across the region against this influence.
The Union, a global scientific organization based in France, and sub-grantee Vital Strategies, which co-produce the Tobacco Atlas online resource of national and international statistics and public health interventions. The Union’s tobacco control program, with hubs in New York, India, China, Singapore, and Mexico, has worked with governments and civil society to reduce tobacco use in 50 countries since 2007.
With Bloomberg Philanthropies’ grant funding, the team will generate investigative reports detailing its lobbying tactics and marketing strategies, provide tools and training materials for low- and middle-income countries, and add innovative “big data” and crowdfunding methods.
These groups will continue and accelerate global work in this area to strengthen public health efforts—especially where the industry targets the most vulnerable.
Bloomberg Philanthropies’ founder Michael R. Bloomberg said it best: “All of the groups taking part in this effort have a strong history of fighting back against the tobacco industry’s tricks, and together they can help save a lot of lives.”
We believe that with STOP, the tobacco industry won’t be able to continue its deceptive practices unchecked. And, if we can make a dent in Big Tobacco’s targeting of young kids— actually preventing them from getting hooked in the first place—imagine what that could mean for the health and well-being of our next generation.