Committed to Fr. Mike’s Legacy in Tobacco

Last week while attending ICCR’s Fall Conference, I attended the regular session on tobacco. As you likely know, Fr. Mike Crosby, O.F.M., Cap., our founder, was an early leader for his shareholder work in tobacco. Our session, in addition to our regular concerns on engagements with the tobacco industry, also included a significant conversation about vaping e-cigarettes.

By way of personal background, my grandmother smoked a pack a day of Pall Mall cigarettes. As a child, I detested the smell. At one point, I decided to leave my suitcase in our car when we would visit, as I did not want my clean clothes to smell of cigarettes. In other words, from early on, I never found smoking attractive. Consequently, I continually find myself surprised at its allure, especially to young people.

In reality, I should not be surprised. The attraction fits an old pattern. We remember the “seven dwarfs” testifying to Congress in 1994 that cigarettes are not addictive, in spite of having evidence to the contrary for decades. With Juul and e-cigarettes, we have a new addition to those archives. While regarded as proprietary information, e-cigarettes are more potent for their concentration of nicotine than cigarettes, according to Vox. In fact, a journal from Stanford University describes it as a “nicotine arms race.” In September, CNBC shared a CDC warning that Juul’s patented nicotine-salt technology allows for much more efficient delivery of nicotine directly to the brain, multiplying its highly addictive effect especially for teens. Hence, it was no surprise when Reuters reported yesterday that Juul disregarded early evidence that teens were becoming addicted. In September, Axios reported that the FDA warned Juul about its misleading advertising. In the face of mounting evidence of the damage caused, the White House planned to ban all flavored e-cigarettes, but the administration recently retreated that to banning all but menthol. Yesterday, the Journal of the American Medical Association published two studies: one on e-cigarette use among U.S. youth and another revealed the flavor preferences among U.S. youth. Simply put, the exclusion of menthol in the ban happens to coincide with the most popular flavor among American youth. Every Thursday, you can visit the website of the Center for Disease Control to see the updated statistics concerning Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products. As of this writing, the CDC counts 1,888 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) and 37 deaths.

We were fortunate to be joined in our session by Meredith Berkman, co-founder of Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes (PAVE). Berkman and her co-founders were recently featured in the Wall Street Journal: Getting Through to Your Teen About the Dangers of Vaping. She shed some light on the allure to young people. Armed with the various devices and pods, she demonstrated how discreet the products are and how easy they are to use. The PAVE website has a lot of great information.

Simply put, Fr. Mike made advances in this work over the decades, but the fight by no means is finished. For the health of a younger generation, here and abroad, may we have some share of Fr. Mike’s zeal, courage, and wisdom in our engagement with the tobacco industry!

Update: NYT reports on investors’ letter to Disney

In February, we posted news of SGI and its members joining other investors in a letter to Disney to restrict smoking in products from newly acquired Fox film and television assets. Yesterday, The New York Times carried news of our letter in an article entitled “There’s No Smoking in Disney Films. What About When It Owns Fox?

More about the engagement with Disney on tobacco can be found here:

SGI members join investor letter to Walt Disney regarding tobacco depictions in films

When CEO Bob Iger said, during a Q&A session at Disney’s 2015 annual shareholder meeting, the company will “absolutely prohibit” the use of smoking in Disney films rated PG-13 and under, faith-based investors lauded the decision. It built on a prior commitment from 2007 that prohibited smoking in Disney films, but not yet across their brands.

The 2015 commitment was not a decision limited to certain labels: “We are extending our policy to prohibit smoking in movies across the board: Marvel, Lucas, Pixar, and Disney films,” said Iger. Iger offered only two exceptions: films which involve historical figures known for smoking, or scenes that portray smoking in a negative light (emphasizing the detrimental health consequences of smoking). Disney’s full policy can be found here.

In December of 2017, Disney acquired Fox film and television for $52 billion. It remains unclear what Disney will do with the new acquisitions.

SGI and its members joined other investors in a letter to Disney that calls upon the company to apply the same standards to the film and television properties acquired from Fox that it applies to other film and television holdings already within its portfolio.

Again, read the full investor letter here.

Access to Medicine Index: Critical tool for investors

Pharmaceutical companies have been receiving some bad press in the United States for unprecedented price increases of life savings drugs. Given the difficulty for people in this country to afford these medicines, imagine how much more difficult it must be for citizens of nations where even basic medicines are a challenge to obtain. An important tool

The Access to Medicine Foundation, an international nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, is dedicated to improving access to medicine for people in need. Their award-winning initiative called the Access to Medicine Index (ATMI), launched in 2008 ranks the world’s 20 largest research-based pharmaceutical companies according to their efforts to improve access to medicine in low- to middle-income countries. The 2016 edition of the ATMI can be found here.

2016 ATMI rankings

The ATMI assesses how companies perform in the following areas: management of access to their medicine; market influence and compliance; research and development; pricing, manufacturing and distribution; patents and licensing; capacity building; and product donation. By comparing companies to one another, the ATMI aims to stimulate pharmaceutical companies to play a bigger role in addressing the challenges of access to medicine in developing countries and to offer them insight into the activities of their peers. As well, the ATMI seeks to create a platform for stakeholders from the pharmaceutical industry, governments, investors, civil society, patient organizations and academia to gather and form a common view of how these pharmaceutical companies can make further progress.

For us at SGI, the ATMI, and the work behind it, is incredibly valuable. I was a part of a recent conversation with staff from the Access to Medicine Foundation and can only salute the foundation’s transparency, its openness to input from stakeholders, its solid research, and its contribution to making the pharmaceutical industry better serve the poor. As credible third party research, the ATMI helps us work toward important goals in our dialogues with pharmaceutical companies.

SGI is deeply committed to its work in health. The late Fr. Mike Crosby, O.F.M., Cap. was a pioneer in engagement with tobacco companies. Today, Marty Roers continues the work in tobacco for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet.  Sr. Judy Sinnwell, O.S.F. (Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque) engages several pharmaceutical companies on the affordability of medicine. Ann Roberts at Dana Investment Advisors, Inc. and Fr. Robert Wotypka, O.F.M., Cap. (of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph) are also engaged with companies on drug pricing.

To learn more about the ATMI: