Union logo

In an official note to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Michael Møller, outgoing Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, called for a “more nuanced” relationship between the tobacco industry and the UN system. Møller argued a case for improved partnerships with the private sector, which he said “plays a key role in creating economic prosperity, as an essential mechanism for sustainable development.”

In the note, Møller also stated that: “businesses which are legitimate enough to pay taxes to governments should also be legitimate enough to participate in discussions concerning joint efforts to minimise health risks and address other problems of a common nature. This is particularly true for those that have highly advanced research efforts to minimise the harmful effects of their own products.”

This alarming line of argument echoes the tobacco industry itself – in particular, the Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which claims that it is committed to “reducing harm” through the promotion of alternative tobacco products, whilst Philip Morris continues to sell cigarettes around the world and actively interferes in evidence-based public health policies.

In response to this, a Union backed letter has been sent to UN Secretary-General Guterres, urging him to reject Møller’s note in its entirety, on the grounds that it poses a direct threat to progress towards the sustainable development goals and directly conflicts with international law.

The letter was signed by Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco control at The Union on behalf of the STOP global tobacco industry watchdog, of which The Union is a partner – along with Francis Thompson, Framework Convention Alliance Executive Director; Laurent Huber, Action on Smoking and Health Executive Director; and Matthew L Myers, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President.

Read the full letter below:

Dear Secretary General Guterres,

RE: The role of the tobacco industry in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

We are writing to you regarding a note on the role of the tobacco industry in the United Nation’s (UN) 2030 Agenda you received from the outgoing Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), Michael Møller.

Mr Møller’s call for a “more nuanced” relationship between the tobacco industry and the UN system represents a threat to progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals but also stands in direct conflict with international law, in particular Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which states that “Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.” It is alarming that an outgoing UN official of Mr Møller’s status would feel the need to suggest softening the stance of the global community toward an industry whose products claim eight million lives and cost between one and two percent of global GDP annually.

The consensus within the UN system to exclude the tobacco industry from policymaking was not created lightly. As the FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines note, “there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.” Tobacco companies have a long-standing history of interfering with the implementation of tobacco control policies through lobbying, legal action and intimidation. It is impossible to produce, market and sell tobacco products in a way that is compatible with public health or the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

Accordingly, tobacco companies have been excluded from the UN Global Compact, and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSCO) passed resolution E/2017/L.21, which calls upon all UN agencies to “implement their own policies on preventing tobacco industry interference.

We cannot help but wonder why Mr Møller has chosen to wait until the end of his tenure to raise such a controversial proposal that would be detrimental to global health but beneficial to the tobacco industry. In order to prevent any doubt about the UN’s commitment to global tobacco control, the WHO FCTC and the 2030 Agenda, we respectfully ask you to reject Mr Møller’s note in its entirety and instruct all staff with whom the note was shared to disregard its content.

We count on your continued support in this urgent matter.


[Signed by]:

Francis Thompson, FCA Executive Director

Laurent Huber, ASH Executive Director

Matthew L. Myers, CTFK President

Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union, partner in STOP

About STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products)

STOP is a global tobacco industry watchdog whose mission is to expose tobacco industry strategies and tactics to undermine public health. STOP is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and comprised of a partnership between The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, The Union and Vital Strategies.


logounion sml      

The Tobacco Control Department is based at The Union Europe Office, Edinburgh, registered charity no. SC039880
ⓒ Copyright 2015 The Union