Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chair of FDA Tobacco Advisory Committee Took Tobacco Industry Money to Help Craft Research Agenda for Fraudulent Industry Research Enterprise

Two Prominent Anti-Smoking Researchers Call on Chair to Resign

Two prominent anti-smoking researchers – Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health and Dr. Alan Blum of the University of Alabama – are today calling for the resignation of Dr. Jonathan Samet, the chair of the newly appointed FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, which is in the second day of its inaugural meeting today.

Dr. Samet received tobacco industry funding to help craft the scientific agenda for the now-defunct industry front group: the Center for Indoor Air Research. To the best of our knowledge, he has never publicly acknowledged and apologized for having played this role for the industry and he failed to even mention his history of tobacco funding when he published an article which scolded other scientists for accepting tobacco money to help the industry disseminate “junk science” to foster its opposition to smoke-free policies. Dr. Samet refused to answer our questions about his past involvement with the tobacco industry, instead referring our questions to the FDA.

Dr. Siegel and Dr. Blum’s statement calling for Dr. Samet’s resignation is as follows:

The chairman of the newly created FDA scientific advisory panel on tobacco products, which holds its first meeting on March 30, helped the tobacco industry set a research agenda aimed at casting doubt on the harm caused by secondhand cigarette smoke. Dr. Jonathan Samet, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, was one of six scientists enlisted in 1989 by the Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR), a tobacco industry front group.

In the 1980s mounting scientific evidence of the harmfulness of secondhand smoke led to the passage of numerous state and local smoking bans in public places, culminating in the 1988 ban by Congress on smoking on all domestic airlines. Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was about to consider whether to name secondhand smoke as a cause of cancer.

In response, America's three leading cigarette companies, Philip Morris USA (maker of the top-selling US brand, Marlboro), RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company (Winston, Camel), and Lorillard Inc (Newport) teamed up to establish CIAR. Tobacco company lawyers were present at all meetings of CIAR's Board of Directors and were involved in all of its decisions. In her scathing, 2000-page opinion in the Department of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco industry for racketeering, Judge Gladys Kessler exposed the fraudulent nature of CIAR: "During the entire existence of CIAR (1988-1999) only cigarette company executives/scientists sat on the Board of Directors...Despite the establishment of a functioning Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), only the CIAR Board of Directors had authority to approve the funding of any CIAR project." Judge Kessler also noted that in none of the 19 issues of CIAR's quarterly newsletter was it disclosed that the Center was funded and controlled by the tobacco industry.

Dr. Samet's relationship with the industry surfaced in 1990, when the Associated Press reported that he and five other members of a 16-person EPA scientific advisory panel charged with evaluating studies on the health effects of secondhand smoke were identified as having ties to CIAR. In its 1989-1990 Request for Applications (RFA) from researchers, CIAR acknowledged Samet and others "for their assistance in the development of the Center's first research agenda by making presentations at the Scientific Advisory Board Workshop." CIAR's 1991 RFA thanks Samet and others "for their intense efforts and active participation." Samet accepted payment from the tobacco industry for his participation in the workshop, including travel expenses and an honorarium paid to his academic institution, the University of New Mexico, where he served as a professor in the Department of Family, Community, and Emergency Medicine.

Samet has previously acknowledged: "With regard to the Center for Indoor Air Research, I participated for one day in a workshop at which I gave my opinions concerning research needs on indoor air pollution. On one occasion I have served as an external peer reviewer of grants by mail. For these activities I received reimbursement for expenses. I did not accept honoraria, but submitted them to my institution." Yet the fact remains that the newly appointed chair of the first scientific panel appointed to advise the FDA on the regulation of tobacco products accepted tobacco money to help craft the research agenda for an organization that proved to be a fraudulent scientific enterprise.

Ironically, in 2001 Samet published a paper in the American Journal of Public Health in which he criticized the tobacco industry's use of "junk science" to undermine the scientific evidence linking secondhand smoke and adverse health effects. Samet wrote: "The lesson? The stakes are high in the public policy arena. Public health scientists will continue to be called on to research society's most vexing issues, and to inform and shape the public policy response. We need to be aware of the competing interests and to work for greater transparency to assure ourselves that we understand the purposes and funding sources of potentially invidious meetings and other activities." The junk science and corruption he was condemning was precisely the enterprise in which he had participated at a time when the tobacco industry was redoubling its efforts to cast doubt on the impact of secondhand smoke.

Yet nowhere in Samet's paper does he acknowledge having played a role, even inadvertently, in this scheme. Nor did this inhibit Samet from calling for greater awareness of competing interests and transparency, scolding other scientists, and according to a published article by Dr. Carl Phillips (in the journal Epidemiologic Perspectives and Innovations), even urging attendees at a conference to boycott a session of a scientific meeting at which a tobacco industry-funded scientist was to present a paper on the effects of secondhand tobacco smoke.

In light of these revelations about Dr. Samet, he should end his participation in the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.

Numerous scientists have worked for decades to address tobacco problems without the need to accept funding from cigarette manufacturers or to associate themselves with the tobacco industry's obfuscatory research agenda. Surely, in its first try at ending the smoking pandemic, the FDA should be able to identify a scientist free of the taint of Big Tobacco to serve as chair of its scientific advisory committee.

Michael Siegel, MD, MPH - Professor, Boston University School of Public Health

Alan Blum, MD - Professor and Endowed Chair in Family Medicine and Director of the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society

Dr. Michael Siegel is a long-time tobacco control researcher and advocate for tobacco control policies, fairly well known in the tobacco control area. He is a physician who specializes in preventive medicine and public health. He is now a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health. He has 23 years of experience in tobacco control, primarily as a researcher. He has over 60 published, peer-reviewed articles on tobacco control policy in such journals as the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, American Journal of Public Health, Tobacco Control, Journal of Marketing, and the American Journal of Epidemiology. He is author of three previous op-eds on tobacco policy published in the Washington Post, New York Times, and USA Today. His work on the health effects of secondhand smoke on bar and restaurant workers is widely cited in public policy debates over smoke-free bar and restaurant policies. He has been a long-term advocate for smoke-free bar and restaurant policies, and have testified on behalf of such laws in more than 50 cities throughout the country. His areas of research interest include the health effects of secondhand smoke, policy aspects of regulating smoking in public places, effects of cigarette marketing on youth smoking behavior, and the evaluation of tobacco control program and policy interventions.

Dr. Alan Blum is a family medicine physician and a long-time veteran of the anti-tobacco movement. He is now Professor and Director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society at the University of Alabama. Dr. Blum formerly served as Editor of the New York State Journal of Medicine, where he published the first journal issue dedicated to tobacco articles. Dr. Blum has published extensively on tobacco policy, with a specialty in tobacco marketing and advertising. He is the founder of Doctors Ought to Care, a national organization which has involved physicians in tobacco control advocacy, an effort for which he received the first National Public Health Award from the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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