New WHO campaign highlights tobacco industry tactics to influence public health policies

17 November, 2023

Below is a news release from WHO and comments from me. Read online:

16 November 2023 Departmental news Geneva

The World Health Organization (WHO), today, officially launches the "Stop the lies" campaign as a vital initiative to protect young people from the tobacco industry and their deadly products, by calling for an end to tobacco industry interference in health policy.

This campaign is supported by new evidence from “The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2023”, published by STOP and the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, which shows that efforts to protect health policy from increased tobacco industry interference have deteriorated around the world.

​​WHO’s campaign aims to amplify youth voices, expose tobacco industry tactics and increase public awareness on the need to defend health policies and protect the health of future generations.

Youth groups around the world called on countries to “...adopt decisions that shield us from the manipulative practices of tobacco and related industries.”

“WHO stands with young people globally who have demanded governments protect them against a deadly industry that targets them with new harmful products while outright lying about the health impacts. We call on all countries to safeguard health policies from this deadly industry by not letting them have a seat at the policy-making table,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion, WHO.

The tobacco industry tries to interfere with countries’ right to protect people’s health by taking governments to court, or offering financial and in-kind incentives to be able to influence tobacco control policies, even at the upcoming WHO FCTC Conference of Parties. WHO supports countries in defending evidenced based tobacco control measures in the face of industry interference.

The tobacco industry continues to lie to the public, using different ways to spread misinformation, including through:

- Front groups and third parties

- Social media influencers

- Sponsored events

- Funding scientists and biased research

- Supporting corporate social responsibility initiatives

Recognizing the tobacco industry’s relentless efforts to market its products to vulnerable groups, especially young people, WHO is committed to expose the industry's attempts to weaken health policies and call on policy makers to stand firm against tobacco industry influence. There are 183 Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that have committed to do this under the global health treaty.

The tobacco industry has a long history of lying to the public, even insisting that smoking does not cause lung cancer. Today we know that tobacco causes 25% of all cancers and kills over 8 million people each year, but the industry persists with marketing what they call ‘new’ and ‘safer’ products that we know are harmful to health, while still producing trillions of cigarettes each year.

With half of all tobacco users dying prematurely, the maintenance of the tobacco and nicotine market relies heavily on recruiting new, young users, and tobacco companies employ multiple tactics to gain the trust and interest of young people at an early age.

Menthol and flavoured cigarettes and candy-flavored e-cigarettes with eye-catching designs have further contributed to the popularization of these products among the young generation, all while leaving many consumers largely unaware of the negative effects on their health.

The tobacco industry invests enormous amounts of money in lobbying against tobacco control policies and funds organizations that promote its interests.

These tobacco tactics, when left unchecked, inflict immeasurable harm on public health. Moreover, the production and use of tobacco and nicotine products have a cascading damaging effect on other critical issues such as the environment, mental health, and child labor.


COMMENT (NPW): To the above I would add that there should be more investment in initiatives to meet the information needs of people globally about the harms of tobacco. It is often assumed that 'everybody' knows that smoking is bad for you. This is a dangerous assumption. While many, perhaps most, people know that smoking *can* have harmful effects on health, few truly understand the implications for themselves and their loved ones. For example, how many people truly understand that 'half of all tobacco users die prematurely'? How many understand that 'for every person who dies because of smoking, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related illness'? [ ]

How many people can list even three of the almost endless list of diseases associated with smoking? (Indeed I am unable to find a comprehensive list of diseases associated with smoking. This should be prominent in health education materials.)

The tobacco industry is exploiting a weakness in the global population: a lack of understanding about the health risks of smoking. This is why, for example, in Indonesia (a country where smokers typically start before age 10 years), cigarettes can be advertised with the slogan "Longevity" on the pack. It's why popular YouTubers like Clint are able to argue "What would you say if I told you that we can't say that smoking causes cancer? It's true..."

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: