No government is immune from tobacco industry interference: Lessons from Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine collaboration with Philip Morris
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Action on Smoking & Health, Edmonton, Canada
Corporate Accountability, Quito, Ecuador
Publication date: 2023-04-25
Corresponding author
Les Hagen
Action on Smoking & Health, Edmonton, Canada
Tob. Prev. Cessation 2023;9(Supplement):A10
In October 2020, the Government of Canada announced a US$130 million collaboration with Medicago Inc. to develop a new COVID-19 vaccine. Shortly thereafter, Philip Morris International (PMI) revealed that it was a major partner in the collaboration and provided a US$40 million loan guarantee to secure its involvement. The government’s collaboration with PMI represented a blatant violation of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control which prohibits tobacco industry partnerships among participating countries. The news of the collaboration was met with opposition and resistance from the global tobacco control community.

Material and Methods:
In response to the PMI vaccine collaboration, ASH Canada and Corporate Accountability launched a global advocacy campaign in November 2020 urging the Canadian government to comply with the WHO tobacco control treaty and remove PMI as an investor. The advocacy campaign involved over 100 members of the Framework Convention Alliance (GATC) and included several high-profile interventions including news coverage, letter-writing, presentations, and a direct appeal to the delegates of the 2022 World Health Assembly, governments around the world and governmental regulatory agencies (i.e. FDA).

In December 2022, Medicago revealed that PMI was ejected from the vaccine collaboration and its holdings in the company were purchased by the majority owner.

Canada is viewed as a world leader in tobacco control. If Canada is vulnerable to tobacco industry interference, then so are many countries. The WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control can shield participating countries from tobacco industry interference through the full implementation of Article 5.3 and its guidelines. In addition, there is an important need to implement other related articles of the treaty such as Article 19 as rapidly as possible to hold the industry accountable and deter further misconduct.

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