Philip Morris denies obstructing WHO
GENEVA, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Philip Morris Cos Inc on Wednesday denied it had sought to undermine World Health Organisation's anti-smoking campaigns and attacked a hostile WHO report as based on selected old documents.
The report, issued just weeks after a U.S. court awarded a record $145 billion damages against the tobacco industry, accused the world's number one tobacco firm and others of ``systematic efforts'' to ``undermine and subvert'' its activities.
``Public health messages on smoking by WHO and other organisations have not been altered by Philip Morris, nor were any WHO initiatives prevented or obstructed by any conduct on the part of Philip Morris,'' the U.S. company said in a statement from its European headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The company said it was prepared to work with WHO. Its vice president for the EU region, David Davies, conceded that ``we recognise that there is an atmosphere of mistrust and confrontation to which we may have contributed.''
``But if we move beyond the past, there is a genuine possibility for practical solutions and progress,'' he added.
In its report, Geneva-based WHO accused cigarette makers of trying secretly to undermine its efforts to combat smoking.
It alleged that they fought its tobacco campaign by trying to get its budget slashed, pit other U.N. agencies against it and distort the results of important scientific tobacco studies.
As far back as 1988, WHO alleged that the top executives of Philip Morris including Geoffrey Bible, who is now the company's chairman and chief executive officer, devised a plan against it dubbed the ``Boca Raton Action Plan''.
In a confidential December 1988 memo, WHO quoted Bible as saying that the agency has ``extraordinary influence on government and consumers'' and the company must ``find a way to diffuse this and re-orient their activities.''
The report concluded that many aspects of the effort were still being implemented today.
The Philip Morris statement denied WHO's allegations of improper influence. It said the documents WHO based its findings on were selective and ``we do not believe that they substantiate a conclusion that Philip Morris obstructed WHO's health messages about tobacco or its tobacco control initiatives.''
Davies said Philip Morris wanted to have a constructive dialogue with WHO. ``Through such an approach, the company is trying to secure resolution of differences and solutions to shared concerns about tobacco,'' he said.
``Although we do not expect to agree with WHO on all issues, we can play a positive role in addressing the public policy and regulatory issues relating to tobacco by working together on issues such as youth smoking prevention, proper warnings, manufacturing regulations, marketing restrictions and smuggling,'' he added.
WHO issued its report ahead of public tobacco hearings which it will host in October in Geneva. The hearings will debate the world's first international treaty to curb tobacco use and ban cigarette advertising which WHO is trying to hammer out.
The agency has told interested parties including tobacco companies that they can make one comment each, limited to five written pages and five minutes of spoken presentation.
Talks began under WHO auspices last year aimed at agreeing on a legally binding treaty that could hobble the industry.