Balancing science and political economy: Tobacco control and global health

Wellcome Open Res. 2018 Apr 12;3:40. doi: 10.12688/wellcomeopenres.14362.1. eCollection 2018.


Background: Global tobacco control is a major public health issue, as smoking-related disease burden remains high worldwide. The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) are the driving forces in global tobacco control. However, little research has focused on their development, financing, decision-making, and accountability structures. Methods: We used two strategies to identify the development and structure of global tobacco control initiatives. First, we reviewed the published literature through electronic databases. Second, we conducted grey literature searching. Results: We identified four periods in the Bank's involvement in global tobacco control, from creation of the evidence base in the 1990s to the implementation of tax reforms. We identified three phases in the WHO's efforts, from its early recognition of the link between tobacco and health risks in the 1970s to its implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Both organisations are financed by a handful of private philanthropies, and face similar risks for effective tobacco control: reduced accountability and resource mobilisation, poor decision-making authority due to specific donor influence, and difficulty in monitoring and evaluation. Conclusions: Continued attention should be paid not only to the primary health-related outcomes of tobacco use, but also to the decision-making and financing structures to promote tobacco control activities.

Keywords: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Bloomberg Philanthropies; Framework convention on tobacco control; Tobacco; World Bank; World Health Organization.

Grant support

This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust [106635] and the Nakayama Foundation for Human Science.