Statement by Knowledge∙Action∙Change in response to claims made by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

For immediate release: Saturday 21 March 2020

On Friday 20 March, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (‘the Bureau’) published an article entitled 'Web of cash and contacts ties Public Health England to Big Tobacco'. Within 36 hours of upload, the article's headline was edited to read 'Public Health England paid group linked to Big Tobacco'. The piece is an unfair portrayal of Knowledge∙Action∙Change (KAC), our work and, more importantly, of the public health potential of tobacco harm reduction and safer nicotine products to reduce the toll of death and disease caused by tobacco-smoking.

The article implies that KAC acted as a conduit for tobacco industry influence on UK public health policy, through the organisation’s support for the consumer-led New Nicotine Alliance, a small UK-registered charity with a turnover of less than £24k per year. This influence is alleged to have been exerted via grant-restricted funding that KAC receives from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World for specific tobacco harm reduction research, education and communications work. KAC refutes these accusations vigorously.

The article in question forms part of the Bureau’s ongoing Smoke Screen series. As the article initially referred to what it called a ‘web’ of ‘cash, contacts’ and influence, it is important to note the Bureau’s own sources of funding for their work on tobacco. The Bureau receives funding for the Smoke Screen project from a US-based organisation called Vital Strategies, Inc., which is in turn funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The most recent publicly available records date back over three years to January 2017, but reveal that Vital Strategies, Inc. received a two-year grant for their Tobacco Control Program in excess of $42 million.

When KAC asked the Bureau about its relationship to Vital Strategies, Inc. and, in turn, Bloomberg Philanthropies, they replied that funders have no “control over the editorial direction of any story or reporting.”

In response to the article’s misleading claims, Professor Gerry Stimson, Director of Knowledge∙Action∙Change, said:

“The Bureau’s article accuses Knowledge∙Action∙Change of being part of a ‘complex network’ linked to ‘an influential and well-funded organisation’. We feel it is only fair to point out that the same may be levelled at the Bureau with regard to their receipt of an undisclosed amount of funding from Vital Strategies, Inc. which has taken tens of millions of dollars from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“Funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies is being used to undermine tobacco harm reduction efforts around the world and to influence an anti-tobacco harm reduction agenda at major global institutions, including the World Health Organization. Failed Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg holds strong anti-tobacco harm reduction views, instead believing that prohibition will – eventually – work. Just as the tobacco industry should not influence public health policy, neither should the personal opinions and misguided beliefs of billionaire philanthropists with no relevant qualifications or expertise.

“KAC focuses on harm reduction as a key public health strategy grounded in human rights. Our staff have over forty years of experience of work on drug use, HIV, sexual health, prisons, and now tobacco harm reduction. We want to see an end to tobacco-related death and disease.

“However, this will not happen unless existing tobacco control measures are enhanced by harm reduction. Smokers around the world deserve access to appropriately regulated safer alternatives to combustible tobacco, like nicotine e-cigarettes, snus and heated tobacco products. Millions of people have already made the choice to improve their own health by switching away from combustible tobacco and adopted these products, at negligible cost to governments and taxpayers, including in the UK, Sweden, Norway and Japan.

“Harm reduction is already recognised in the international treaty on tobacco control (the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control 2005, Article 1d). Yet it is not being universally adopted, and we would question why this is.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For further information, contact Ruth Goldsmith, Communications Manager, at ruth@kachange.eu or on 07801 845192.

References:

Links to the page with the headline 'Web of cash and contacts ties Public Health England to Big Tobacco' no longer function due to the change in title. The article is instead accessible at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's website at: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2020-03-20/public-health-england-paid-group-linked-to-big-tobacco

Vital Strategies, Inc. – Financial Report 2018 https://www.vitalstrategies.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Vital-Strategies-Financial-Stmts-2018-FINAL.pdf

Knowledge∙Action∙Change project funding:

Knowledge∙Action∙Change (KAC) has performed due diligence and is satisfied that the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (‘the Foundation’) is an independent, US nonprofit 501(c)(3) which, under US law, must operate independently of its donors. KAC is currently delivering on three projects grant-funded by the Foundation (The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction project; dissemination of the findings of the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction project; the Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarships Programme).

All reports produced by KAC under the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction project are, under the terms of the grant agreement, editorially independent of the Foundation. The Foundation plays no part in determining the content, analysis or conclusions of Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction reports and the Foundation provided input only at the initial concept stage of the project. The research for the biennial Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction reports (2018, forthcoming 2020) uses a wide range of publicly available, independently published sources.