Billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday gave a trio of anti-tobacco crusaders $20 million to up their game against an industry aggressively marketing its deadly wares worldwide, especially in developing countries.
The non-profit groups — based in France, England and Thailand — jointly secured the three-year grant to spotlight industry-led sabotage of policies designed to reduce tobacco use, Bloomberg told AFP.
“I’m sympathetic,” he said by phone. “They want to promote their products and make money for their stockholders.”
“But it is killing people, and I have always thought there is a point at which there are things more valuable — more important — than just increasing the bottom line.”
The new initiative “will protect consumers by shining a light on the tobacco industry’s underhanded tactics, including marketing directly to children,” Bloomberg added.
The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath in Britain, staffed by academics and journalists, has long tracked tobacco industry efforts to influence public policy, publishing its findings since 2011 on tobaccotactics.org.
Big Tobacco’s tactics to expand markets have included suing governments seeking to implement plain packaging for cigarettes, sponsoring cultural events or sports teams, and challenging the legality of smoke-free zones.
In Thailand, The Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) focuses on Southeast Asia, and produces the Tobacco Industry Interference Index.
Finally, the Paris-based International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease — a scientific organisation — publishes the Tobacco Atlas, a national and global statistical database, and works with governments in 50 countries.
“Together, they can help save a lot of lives,” said Bloomberg, who has given away upwards of a billion dollars over the last decade for the cause.
Tobacco claims nearly seven million lives each year from cancer and other lung diseases, a million in China alone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Smoking has plateaued in most rich nations, but in the developing world the total number of tobacco users — overwhelmingly men, especially the young — keeps climbing.