Bill Gates, Bloomberg Pick Fight With Big Tobacco

Bill Gates has mostly dedicated himself to preventing infectious diseases globally, but he’s dabbled in other progressive causes, including gun control, immigration reform, and income inequality. Now the former Microsoft CEO is prepared to enter a new arena, the fight against Big Tobacco. Bill Gates joined fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg in donating $4 million towards the launch of the Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund to help countries to combat the influence of large tobacco companies and win trade litigation.

Bill Gates laid out his reasons for supporting the fund according to the Guardian.

“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… That’s why we are supporting the Anti-Tobacco Trade Litigation Fund with Bloomberg Philanthropies.”

Gates and his organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are following Michael Bloomberg’s Bloomberg Philanthropies in the struggle against tobacco companies’ influence. The two organizations announced the new legal fund at the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi. Bloomberg’s foundation has already contributed $600 million to battle smoking worldwide since 2007.

The billionaire duo’s fund should help anti-tobacco advocates write legislation to promote good health, as well as fight legal challenges from Tobacco giants. They cite Australia and Uruguay as two countries that are currently facing legal challenges to their health laws.

In the developed world, smoking is already on the decline. According to the OECD iLibrary, smoking rates have dropped by about one-third across all OECD countries. As that trend continues, the developing world becomes the tobacco industry’s last bastion for profit growth.

Bill Gates appears to be well aware of that, saying, “Australia won its first case, which sends a strong message. But smaller, developing countries don’t have the same resources.”

One example is Kenya.

The Guardian reports that British American Tobacco (BAT), a massive tobacco conglomerate, owns 70 percent of the smoking market in Kenya, and they want to keep it that way. The Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation has claimed that BAT has intimidated and interfered with anti-tobacco legislation.

As a result, they managed to push back Kenya’s Tobacco Control Act 13 years until it was finally pushed through in 2007.

Like Gates claimed, Kenya lacks many of the resources to fight big tobacco companies, but it’s not alone.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that tobacco is on track to kill one billion people in the 21st century. Now, about 80 percent of smokers live in the developing world.

Bill Gates and Bloomberg’s pledge of four million dollars may seem like a drop in the bucket for now, but it may continue to grow and will compliment Bloomberg’s donations to the cause.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]