Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg are taking on Big Tobacco

Their legal fund only has $4m, but who would bet against two of the world's most successful businessmen?

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 22 Sep 2015

Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg are not only two of the world’s richest, most successful businessmen, they are also determined to do good with their wealth. Now, the two have teamed up to take on the might of Big Tobacco, with a new $4m (£2.7m) fund to help developing countries fight legal challenges to anti-smoking laws.

Smoking is in inexorable decline in the developed world – 45% of British adults lit up in 1974; just 19% do so now. So Big Baccy has turned its focus to encouraging smokers in developing nations where public health policy often trails the rich world.

But former New York mayor Bloomberg has been having none of it. His foundation Bloomberg Philanthropies (also does what it says on the tin) has been helping Uruguay fight a lawsuit by Swiss giant Philip Morris International since 2010.

PMI is arguing the country’s health warnings on baccy packets go against a trade agreement with Switzerland. It’s also challenging Australia’s law that forces cigarettes to be sold in plain packets save for graphic health warnings, a policy being fought by the World Trade Organisation too, by claiming it violates a trade agreement with Hong Kong.

‘We are at a critical moment in the global effort to reduce tobacco use, because the significant gains we have seen are at risk of being undermined by the tobacco industry’s use of trade agreements and litigation,’ Bloomberg said in a statement.

‘Country leaders who are trying to protect their citizens from the harms of tobacco should not be deterred by threats of costly legal challenges from huge tobacco companies,’ Gates said. ‘Australia won its first case, which sends a strong message. But smaller, developing countries don’t have the same resources.’

The $4m the two billionaires have put into the Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund (does what it says on the tin), which will be administered by US charity Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, doesn’t sound like a lot. But given they’re putting their money where their mouth is you’d expect they’ve put enough into the pot for now – after all, Bloomberg Philanthropies has committed $600m to fighting smoking since 2007. Global public health has powerful friends in high places – Big Tobacco (whose profits are still rising as they pass on the costs of ever-increasing taxes) has one hell of a fight on its hands.

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