A coalition of health groups have called on the Canadian government to replace Philip Morris International as a major shareholder in Medicago.
In late February, Health Canada authorized Medicago’s Convifenz Covid-19 vaccine, which is manufactured with the help of tobacco plants. Soon after, the World Health Organization signaled it was unlikely to grant the vaccine emergency approval due to Medicago’s ties to the tobacco industry. PMI owns about a third of the biopharmaceutical company.
“There is a simple pathway to get this vaccine approved. Our governments should stand up to Philip Morris,” said Flory Doucas, co-director of the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.
“Instead of asking the WHO to contravene its own tobacco control treaty, which was ratified by Canada and 181 other countries, the federal Minister of Health and his Quebec counterpart should focus their energies on convincing the tobacco giant to withdraw as a shareholder of Medicago.”
According to the health groups, Medicago has already signaled that it is seeking alternative investors. The Canadian and Quebec governments, they say, should help facilitate such a transition.
The health groups cite Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which obliges parties to ensure that their policies are protected “from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.”
“Guidelines for implementing this obligation make clear that ‘the tobacco industry should not be a partner in any initiative linked to setting or implementing public health policies, given that its interests are in direct conflict with the goals of public health,’” the organizations wrote in a press release. “Parties are directed that they ‘should not endorse, support, form partnerships with or participate in activities of the tobacco industry described as socially responsible.’”