In September 2017, tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) launched the misleadingly named Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum, a tobacco-industry funded event. The foundation purported to be an independent foundation that would support research on reduced harm products, but its initial messaging and activities continued Big Tobacco’s narrative of claiming that “more research is needed” to develop safer nicotine products.

In 2019, PMI ran a full-page ad with the headline, “It’s taken us twenty years, but a smoke-free future looks like it’s becoming a smoke-free reality” and promoting ‘smoke-free’ alternatives. Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) outlined how this new foundation co-opted our Smokefree terminology in a June 2019 blog post and noted, “Just as a leopard doesn’t change its spots, Big Tobacco hasn’t changed its behavior; it has adapted and modified its activities based on changes in public opinion about smoking and being exposed to secondhand smoke…”

Since its inception, FSFW has been funded by Philip Morris International (PMI) despite initial claims it would also be funded by other traditional foundations such as Gates Foundation or Bloomberg Charities, both of whom quickly refuted those claims. The foundation’s tax returns, up until 2022, showed that it remained solely funded by PMI, reportedly receiving at least $120 million from the company between 2017 and 2022. PMI paid a final lump sum of $122.5 million in September 2023.

In November 2023, the newly appointed President and Chief Executive Officer, Cliff Douglas, claimed that the Foundation is no longer funded by the tobacco industry and that the organization had severed ties with the nicotine industry. This seems implausible, unless you consider that the Foundation has secured millions that can likely sustain the organization for a decade or more. While the financial tie may have been recently severed, the origin of the Foundation and industry influence will remain. Transparency matters when it comes to tobacco industry funding.

Douglas comes to this highly paid position after working on public health and tobacco control issues. He claims he is in this position to fund meaningful research and evidence-based education, which would be useful if truthful. The tobacco industry touted that new products such as electronic smoking devices (ESDs)/e-cigarettes were life-saving alternatives for hard-core smokers who couldn’t kick the habit; however, data show that many youth and young adults are using the products and many cigarette smokers became dual users of combustible and vaporized nicotine products. It is unclear how FSFW intends to mitigate this ongoing epidemic, but authentic, unbiased research into the ESD/e-cigarette epidemic and ways to deter the millions of youth and adults who were attracted to these ‘safer’ products and are now addicted to nicotine could be useful and a good first step to demonstrate its commitment to public health.

ANR has a long-standing policy not to work or negotiate with the tobacco industry or its front groups. This includes FSFW, given its strong ties to tobacco industry funding and influence. ANR is joined in this decision by Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, to name just a few of the partnering organizations. On December 7, 2023, Douglas shared in a YouTube video that the FSFW will be announcing a name change. This is reminiscent of a move by Philip Morris in 2003, when executives thought a name change to Altria would insulate the larger corporation and its other operating companies from the political pressures on tobacco [Smith and Malone, 2003]. We’re curious to see how the foundation intends to reposition itself and how quickly it will demonstrate it is now independent of its founders, Big Tobacco.

Read more details about FSFW and its funding: