A new paper claims the historical involvement of tobacco companies during the early days of the response to the AIDS epidemic was just a cynical marketing ploy to distract the public from the dangers of smoking.
The big problem with that assertion is not simply that conspiracy theories require all employees to be in sync, but that the dangers of smoking were over 40 years known by the time that large tobacco companies helped mobilize the AIDS response in the 1990s and onwards.
Julia Smith, Sheryl Tompson and Kelley Lee say tobacco industry funding for AIDS response was simply well-received, and did not consider what they claim were concerted attempts to delegitimize the development of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and alignment with the LGBT community on ‘the right to smoke’. They include
some members of tobacco companies stating that in partnering with AIDS Service Organisations (ASOs), their initiative was to divert government attention away from tobacco control. Companies achieved this by revealing the disparity in public health spending between anti-smoking efforts and AIDS relief. Further, it includes statements given to ASOs by the tobacco companies in response to any potential criticism about their partnership
Although this involvement had significantly dropped within developed countries with the introduction of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003 and with the more publicly accepted view that smoking is harmful, there are still pockets of influence in existence. In Sub-Saharan Africa where there continues to be a great need for AIDS response funding, a number of global tobacco companies still have a high stake in AIDS relief. This sustained participation of tobacco funding indicates that efforts to shut down their influence have not been comprehensive enough and is especially pertinent as rates of tobacco use in many sub-Saharan African countries increases.
The paper raises a number of policy implications for both the AIDS and tobacco control communities such as the recognition of how competition among health issues can be exploited by vested interests contrary to public health goals, and highlights a number of lessons that can be learned by other public interest organizations.
They note that for AIDS organizations to choose not to accept tobacco funding requires access to alternative resources, without recognizing that the first rule of medical funding is to take it from anyone who will give it. It's ridiculous for anyone to claim that there is something better any company should be doing with its money.
Citation: ‘Public enemy no. 1’: Tobacco industry funding for the AIDS response; Julia Smith, Sheryl Thompson, Kelley Lee; SAHARA-J: Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS; DOI: 10.1080/17290376.2016.1164617
Conspiracy Theory Or Marketing? Why Tobacco Companies Spent So Much On AIDS Research
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