Goodbye, PMI: Tobacco giant ejected from Canadian vaccine collaboration.

Today we are celebrating a huge victory for tobacco control. Thanks to the collective efforts of over 100 FCA members, Philip Morris has been removed as a shareholder from Canadian vaccine manufacturer, Medicago Inc. This development follows the WHO’s widely-applauded rejection of Medicago’s COVID-19 vaccine last March which was triggered by numerous complaints, letters and advocacy interventions.

The 21-month advocacy effort was led by ASH Canada and Corporate Accountability with support from many CSOs and tobacco control leaders from around the world. These organizations and leaders urged WHO, GAVI, COVAX, FDA and numerous governments and regulators to avoid approving, accepting and distributing the Philip Morris vaccine. A key message of the advocacy campaign was “the control of one pandemic should not compromise another”. The tobacco pandemic claims over eight million deaths annually worldwide and Philip Morris products are a major contributor to this enormous burden of death and disease.

These collective efforts led to a strong global public appeal that was delivered recently at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, urging all countries to reject Canada’s Philip Morris vaccine. Corporate Accountability and ASH Canada delivered the statement on behalf of 115 CSOs who signed the document. The news of PMI’s anticipated departure from Medicago followed shortly thereafter and it has now been carried out.

Article 5.3 is a cornerstone of the FCTC and tobacco industry interference is the single largest barrier to treaty implementation. The Philip Morris vaccine collaboration had the potential to undermine treaty implementation among countries who accepted the vaccine and overlooked their legal obligations to avoid tobacco industry partnerships and related whitewash schemes.

The Medicago investment reflected Philip Morris’s ongoing “corporate social responsibility” efforts aimed at improving the tobacco giant’s tarnished public image. Fortunately, Canadian governments and Medicago’s major shareholder were successfully pressured to frog-march Philip Morris out of the collaboration. Canadian governments were publicly criticized for colluding with Philip Morris and contravening their FCTC obligations by openly defying Article 5.3. Ironically, the Canadian government championed a decision at COP8 of the FCTC urging all Parties to implement Article 5.3 and its guidelines to maximize transparency and avoid tobacco industry interference. Disturbingly, Canada did not adhere to its own binding FCTC directive.

We urge FCA members and CSOs to remind all Parties of their full legal obligations under the FCTC including the need to get their shields up to avoid similar collaborations with Big Tobacco by implementing Article 5.3 and its guidelines. Canada is viewed as a world leader in tobacco control. If Canada is vulnerable to tobacco industry interference, then so are many countries—especially those that have not adopted strong guidelines for Article 5.3.

We also urge the Canadian government to follow through on its COP8 directive and to lead by example by fully implementing Article 5.3 to avoid any future collaborations with the tobacco industry.

We further urge governments around the world to implement Article 19 of the WHO FCTC as rapidly as possible to hold the industry accountable and deter further misconduct.

Many thanks to all our partners and participating FCA members for this stunning public health victory.

Your efforts have demonstrated that civil society can hold governments and tobacco companies to account.

Let’s all celebrate this momentous achievement.

Kind regards,

Les Hagen

Executive Director

ASH Canada

Daniel Dorado

Tobacco Campaign Director

Corporate Accountability