Activists fume at tobacco industry for donating to earthquake-hit Turkey

Activists fume at tobacco industry for donating to earthquake-hit Turkey

The European anti-tobacco lobby has urged the international community to help earthquake-hit Turkey avoid a €1.8 million donation from Phillip Morris International (PMI) highlighting “hidden” lobbying activities. For its part, PMI rejected the accusations saying it’s money to help people in need.

On 15 February, PMI offered €1.8 million “to support immediate humanitarian aid and long-term recovery assistance” after an earthquake hit Turkey and neighbouring Syria causing thousands of deaths.

However, the move triggered a strong reaction from the anti-tobacco lobby.

“The tobacco control community in Turkey is concerned about the recent corporate social responsibility launch by Phillip Morris International about extending earthquake aid to Turkey”, Dr Elif Daglu from the Turkish Coalition on Tobacco or Health to the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP) said in a statement.

Such donations from the tobacco industry constitute a breach of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to which Turkey is a party, he added.

According to WHO data, almost 100,000 people die annually in Turkey because of smoking, while nearly 16 million of the 84 million population are daily smokers.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also expressed his scepticism against novel tobacco products.

Contacted by EURACTIV, ENSP Secretary General Cornel Radu-Loghin said Turkish citizens “asked our organisation and other organisations to do whatever is possible to convince the Turkish government not to accept the tobacco industry money”.

ENSP insisted that the Turkish government should not accept this money and instead urged the international community to provide alternative aid flows.

“Despite the fact that, of course, they need a lot of resources now, there are a lot of other ways to help Turkey not using tobacco money”, Radu-Loghin noted.

ESNP encourages the public health community to donate to the WHO foundation and the BTF relief fund, managed by the Turkish diaspora.

Attempt to ‘clean their image’

ENSP claims that PMI and other tobacco industry organisations are using their social responsibility programmes, including donations, to lobby governments and to “clean their image”.

“PMI and others are conducting an intensive campaign to legalise the sales and marketing, as well as probably their manufacturing, of novel tobacco and nicotine products in the Turkish market,” ESNP said.

A report provided by ENSP claims that the industry is increasingly using social responsibility schemes as a means of lobbying.

“PMI annually publishes millions of dollars on social responsibility support”, a review of which reveals that donations are “generally concentrated in large, mature markets, tobacco-growing countries, and countries where government tobacco control policies have become controversial, such as Turkey, the Philippines, Russia, Pakistan and Malawi”, the report argues.

PMI hits back

For its part, PMI refuted the accusations saying there is no hidden agenda behind the donation.

“The assertion that our donation should be rejected is patently absurd,” PMI told EURACTIV in an emailed response.

“This is about helping people who are suffering, nothing else. It’s unfortunate that certain organisations are taking advantage of a human tragedy to further their own political agenda against specific companies,” the tobacco company added.

“We stand together with the people of Turkey and pledge to do all we can during this difficult time. We urge these organisations to do the same rather than trying to prevent us doing that,” PMI concluded.