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Study Shows Link Between AIDS and Tobacco

Monday May 23, 2016

A new paper comprehensively explores and analyzes the historical involvement of tobacco companies during the early days of the response to the AIDS epidemic.

The article highlights the connection between large tobacco companies and the AIDS response of the 1990s and onwards. Writing in the Journal of Social Aspects of AIDS/HIV, authors Julia Smith, Sheryl Tompson and Kelley Lee, analyze how tobacco industry funding for the AIDS response went largely ignored especially with regard to the ethical issues that were incurred during this time, such as attempts to delegitimize the development of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and alignment with the LGBT community on 'the right to smoke.'

The article includes quotes from senior members of tobacco companies stating that in partnering with AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs), their initiative was to divert government attention away from tobacco control. Companies achieved this by revealing the disparity in public health spending between anti-smoking efforts and AIDS relief. Further, it includes statements given to ASOs by the tobacco companies in response to any potential criticism about their partnership

Although this involvement had significantly dropped within developed countries with the introduction of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003 and with the more publicly accepted view that smoking is harmful, there are still pockets of influence in existence.

In Sub-Saharan Africa where there continues to be a great need for AIDS response funding, a number of global tobacco companies still have a high stake in AIDS relief. This sustained participation of tobacco funding indicates that efforts to shut down their influence have not been comprehensive enough and is especially pertinent as rates of tobacco use in many sub-Saharan African countries increases.

The paper raises a number of policy implications for both the AIDS and tobacco control communities such as the recognition of how competition among health issues can be exploited by vested interests contrary to public health goals, and highlights a number of lessons that can be learned by other public interest organizations. The research exposes the important fact that for AIDS organizations to choose not to accept tobacco funding requires access to alternative resources.

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