RICHMOND, Va. – Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates are launching a fund to help low- and middle-income countries fight often long and expensive legal battles with the tobacco industry.
The newly created Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund backed by $4 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was announced Wednesday at the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
In recent years countries including Uruguay and Australia have been engaged in legal battles with tobacco companies over laws requiring graphic health warning labels or standard packaging for cigarettes without logos. The companies claim the tobacco-control policies violate international trade agreements and World Trade Organization rules.
Bloomberg said the fund will assist smaller, developing countries that often don’t have the resources to compete with tobacco companies.
“We think most of these countries will win these battles but they have to be able to afford some lawyers that have experience in litigating to win,” Bloomberg said in a conference call with reporters.
Officials said the fund is expected to grow as additional donors come on board. Lawyers and other experts will also be tapped for free or discounted work to maximize funding.
Tobacco use kills more than 5 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. And the group says nearly 80 per cent of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.
“This is a public health issue that governments around the world are waking up to and it’s a problem every place and every culture,” said Bloomberg, a billionaire who made his fortune from the global financial data and media company that bears his name. “We don’t think a government should have to choose between investing in its peoples’ future or fighting lawsuits and we think with the right resources they can do both.”
The fund complements the $600 million that Bloomberg Philanthropies has committed to combat tobacco use worldwide since 2007 by helping countries implement tobacco-control policies such as increasing taxes, creating smoke-free public places and banning tobacco advertising. It will be administered by Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which also will co-ordinate legal resources and other technical assistance.
The anti-tobacco conference on the latest developments in global tobacco control efforts will include speeches by Bloomberg, World Health Organization chief Dr. Margaret Chan and Princess Dina Mired, who heads the King Hussein Cancer Foundation of Jordan.
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.