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WHO inquiry

"I asked the Committee to enquire into the nature and extent of undue influence which the tobacco industry had exercised over UN organizations."

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General Emeritus, World Health Organization

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General, World Health Organization, appointed a Committee of Experts in October 1999 to research tobacco company documents which had become publicly available as a result of lawsuits against the tobacco industry in the United States. That documentary evidence pointed to systematic and global efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine tobacco control policy and research developments.

The members of this committee were

Professor Zeltner was Chairman of the Expert Committee. The Committee was assisted by eight outside researchers.

The report of the committee, entitled "Tobacco Industry Strategies to Undermine Tobacco Control Activities at the World Health Organization," was released in August 2000.

Executive Summary [PDF] 
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Full report [PDF]

Response of the Director General to the Report of the Committee of Experts on Tobacco Industry Documents.

 -Part 1 [PDF]     -Part 2 [PDF]

What were the main findings of the Committee?

All evidence gathered by the Expert Committee came from tobacco industry documents themselves. The Committee found that the tobacco industry regarded the World Health Organization as one of their leading enemies, and that the industry had a planned strategy to "contain, neutralise, reorient" WHO's tobacco control initiatives. Tobacco industry documents show that they carried out their plan by:

What were the case studies illustrated by the Committee?

The Boca Raton Action Plan

A master plan by Philip Morris for attacking WHO; influencing the priorities for WHO's Regional offices; and targeting the structure, management and resources of WHO. The plan was organised under the direction of Geoffrey Bible, then President of Philip Morris International (now CEO of Philip Morris Companies, Inc.) at a meeting of top company executives in Boca Raton, Florida.

The Third World Issue

The industry fostered the view that tobacco control is a First World issue and that the damage to health in developing countries from tobacco control activities might exceed the toll from tobacco use itself. Activities included intense lobbying of developing country delegates to various UN agencies; and use of front groups such as the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) to promote their agenda.

An "Independent" Critic of WHO

The industry used "independent" academic institutions, consultants, and journalists to undermine WHO's credibility, to question its "mission and mandate," and to divert its priorities from tobacco control to other health needs. These individuals and institutions were secretly paid by the tobacco companies to promote pro-tobacco or anti-WHO opinions.

8th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health

British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris initiated a campaign to undermine an international conference on tobacco held in Buenos Aires in 1992. The tactics included staging elaborate diversions from the Conference; training journalists to both hound a Conference participant and take over a press conference; and using media to divert attention from high-profile US politicians attending the Conference.

United Nations Standard-Setting for EBDC Pesticides

EBDC pesticides protect tobacco and other crops from fungi and molds. The US Environmental Protection Agency had concluded that a by-product of EBDC pesticides were a "probable human carcinogen." A former pesticide official at WHO was hired by CORESTA, a tobacco industry organisation, to coordinate its campaign for the EBDCs. The same former official was also asked to serve as temporary advisor on a joint UN board reviewing pesticides. The report says the impact of this temporary advisor on the UN joint committee's "standard setting is unclear." The report adds that "the committee of experts believes that further investigation is necessary."


The tobacco industry carried out a multi-million dollar campaign to undermine a large-scale epidemiological study on the relationship between environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and lung cancer. The study was conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency established under the auspices of WHO.

What were the main recommendations of the Committee?

WHO should increase public awareness of tobacco company influence on international tobacco control policies. Specifically, WHO should release and publish the report for discussion at public hearings on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, October 12-13, 2000.

Other UN organizations and Member Countries should conduct similar investigations to uncover possible tobacco company influence.

WHO should counter any campaign of opposition by the tobacco companies to the emerging Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

WHO should clarify, strengthen or expand the process and rules in place to guard against potential conflicts of interest involving the tobacco industry.

Additional safeguards should be put in place to protect against tobacco company attempts to distort scientific research sponsored by, or associated with, WHO and affiliated organizations.

WHO should develop a strategy to counter the tactics employed by tobacco companies to gain opposition to tobacco control in the developing world.

WHO should determine whether the pattern of behaviour described in the report has ceased or if it is continuing.

WHO should assist Member States in determining whether they have a legal and factual basis to seek restitution from tobacco companies for past misconduct.

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