Philip Morris Paid Scientists to Attend WHO
LONDON (Reuters) - Philip Morris Cos. Inc, the world's largest cigarette company, confirmed Wednesday it had paid scientists to attend World Health Organization meetings but had done nothing improper to influence the U.N. body.
A senior European executive told Reuters the company had helped publicize the views of a U.S. delegate who had criticized the WHO and said a toxicologist serving on a WHO committee had been retained by the industry without the WHO's knowledge.
Just weeks after a U.S. court slapped $145 billion damages on tobacco companies for sick smokers the WHO added another blow Wednesday with a report accusing the industry of systematically working to undermine its efforts to curb smoking.
The WHO said it was shocked at the scale of what it called companies' efforts to fight its tobacco campaign, by, among other things, paying scientists working for WHO committees and trying to distort the results of scientific studies.
``It is true that we had scientists retained by us to secure information,'' David Davies, vice-president of the EU region of Philip Morris International, said in an interview from Lausanne.
``But there is nothing in the document and nothing in the report to suggest there was anything improper that occurred in relation to those activities and certainly nothing which in any sense influenced or undermined the activities of the WHO.''
Davies said during the late 1980s and early 1990s Philip Morris had paid ``a handful'' of scientists to go to ``ordinary plenary meetings'' of the WHO to which it as a company had been denied access.
Philip Morris wanted to be informed about matters relating to its business and ``sought to have people present at those meetings.'' Davies said those people were known to be working with the tobacco industry.
Philip Morris no longer employed third parties to gain information or to represent its views, but had for the past five years tried to hold dialogue directly with governments and multilateral bodies, he noted.
Philip Morris Helped A Critical Who Delegate
The company had supported a U.S. delegate to the World Health Organization who had criticized the body for spending so much time looking at ``lifestyle'' issues like tobacco and who was opposed to former WHO Director-General Hiroshi Nakajima, who had been accused of mismanagement.
``I'm aware of one individual who had been a delegate to the WHO. We subsequently entered into arrangements with this person where we assisted in disseminating his views that were critical of the WHO,'' Davies said.
The executive denied that tobacco companies had sought to influence research into smoking, but noted that a toxicologist working with a joint committee of the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had also worked for a tobacco industry body.
``As I understand it was not known to a number of people that he had been separately retained the tobacco industry.''
Decisions From Secret Florida Meeting No Longer In Force
The report, which drew on company documents released from anti-tobacco lawsuits in the United States, said Philip Morris had devised a confidential action plan after a secret top-level meeting in Boca Raton, Florida in 1988, to counter the WHO.
``What came out of that meeting was nothing more than a determination to ensure that we'd make every effort to make our views known on issues that were important to our business,'' Davies said.
But Davies, who is responsible for government and public relations within the European Union, where Philip Morris has 37 percent of the tobacco market, denied that directives created in Boca Raton were still in force, as the WHO alleged.
``That was an era that was characterized by a great deal of aggressivity and rancor on both sides,'' he said.
``We felt that because of all the conflict there was no progress being made.''