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A Philip Morris-Funded Foundation Is Using a Science Contest to Target School Children

New Delhi: School students from around the world, including India, are being contacted and given awards by a foundation funded by Philip Morris International (PMI), a leading tobacco company and the maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

This month, India’s health ministry revised its guidelines for ‘Tobacco-free Educational Institutions’ to say that schools and students should not accept awards from tobacco manufacturers. The revision also says students should not be exposed to tobacco or tobacco substitute products like e-cigarettes. ‘Such notion of safety is false,’ says a copy of these guidelines, which has been reviewed by The Wire .

Even before this, for years, Indian law has prohibited the exposure of children to cigarettes and tobacco products. The recently amended Juvenile Justice Act prescribes a punishment of seven years and fine of Rs 1 lakh for the sale of cigarettes to minors.

However, a number of teams from Delhi Public School (DPS) in R.K. Puram have participated in a competition sponsored by the PMI-funded foundation, called the ‘Foundation for a Smoke Free World’. One team from DPS also won an award in the category sponsored by this foundation.

One student who participated in the contest said that the foundation’s staff members were ‘really helpful’. ‘They gave us their business cards, told us we could contact them for internships, they gave us a lot of advice, it was really great.’

The Wire’s conversations with a number of students who participated in the contest show that the winning students from around the world travelled to the US this year, where they met with officials from the foundation. These officials have offered to mentor the children and have made themselves available as a resource to discuss future career options.

The school children are receiving these awards and having these interactions even while a number of top US universities, such as Harvard and Johns Hopkins, have declined funding from this foundation. PMI also recently retracted a marketing campaign it ran targeting young children and teenagers.

How to reach school children

The laws and policies around the world that block cigarette companies from interacting with young people have not entirely stopped PMI.

This obstacle is now avoided via the Foundation for a Smoke Free World, established by PMI in 2017 with a promise of a hefty $80 million per year for 12 years. The foundation says it is interested in funding research into a future which is ‘smoke free’, despite the fact that their sole funder, PMI, is one of the leading cigarette companies in the world.

Because of its tobacco funding, the World Health Organisation has denounced this foundation thrice,Other global bodies have done the same and at least 19 top universities in the US have refused funding from the foundation.

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