|Press Release WHO/59
12 October 1999
WHO APPOINTS OUTSIDE EXPERTS TO REVIEW ALLEGED TOBACCO INDUSTRY ATTEMPTS TO "UNDERMINE" UN-WIDE TOBACCO CONTROL EFFORTS
The World Health Organization (WHO) believes in fair and transparent dialogue with all sectors of society working to advance the cause of public health. As the world's premier health agency, WHO works closely with ministries of health in Member States, health professionals, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), media and with the private sector including pharmaceutical companies and private industry. WHO values their inputs and believes that together the world can achieve WHO's goal of health for all.
Tobacco, however, falls in another category. A cigarette is the only freely available consumer product, which, when regularly consumed as indicated, kills. Four million people die annually from tobacco; this figure will increase to 10 million by 2030, and 70% of these deaths will be in developing countries.
Documentary evidence points to a systematic and global effort by the tobacco industry to undermine tobacco control policy and research and development within the United Nations (UN) family, including its Member States, and within the academic and NGO communities.
Consequently, WHO Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland today called for preliminary enquiry into the nature and extent of the undue influence which the tobacco industry has exercised over UN organizations.
While the full extent of the tobacco industry's negative impact within the UN is not known, an initial analysis shows clear efforts to prevent implementation of healthy public policy and efforts to reduce funding of tobacco control within UN organizations, with a view to safeguarding the tobacco industry's interests.
Dr Brundtland today declared that, "WHO is deeply concerned about the nature of the evidence in the 35 million documents that have now become available in the public domain (as a result of the Minnesota, United States court case)." In October 1998, she told a seminar on "Industry Disclosures and Public Health" that WHO would examine the emerging evidence with great interest to ascertain the next steps. The time to take action has come.
"Last month the US government filed a case against the tobacco industry alleging more than 100 acts of racketeering by the industry. The UK House of Commons has launched an enquiry into the tobacco industry. A growing number of WHO Member States are weighing their options to deal with the tobacco industry including litigation," added Dr Brundtland.
WHO chairs the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Tobacco Control. Because of this system-wide responsibility for tobacco control, Dr Brundtland believes that other UN agencies should join the WHO in conducting a preliminary enquiry into the nature of the documents and their undue influence on UN organizations and based upon this review, decide on an appropriate course of action.
"WHO has appointed Dr Thomas Zeltner, member of WHO Executive Board from Switzerland, to lead a committee of independent experts to review available documents and report to WHO before it considers next steps. I make this decision in the spirit of full and complete transparency, but above all, in the service of public health," said Dr Brundtland.
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