The major national anti-smoking groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, Action on Smoking and Health, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Legacy Foundation, have called for an immediate ban on electronic cigarettes because they claim we are not sure whether these products are safe for use as smoking cessation devices.
In the mean time, new evidence published in January demonstrates that Chantix is most definitely not a safe drug. However, none of these same anti-smoking groups is calling for Chantix to be pulled off the market until it is proven to be safe for use as a smoking cessation drug.
Why the double standard?
A new study published last month in PLoS One reports that Chantix is the worst drug offender in terms of being associated with suicidal behavior and violence towards others. According to the research, Chantix has been associated with more than 400 cases of violence and more than 11,000 serious adverse effects. Chantix was associated with 18 times the number of violence cases as one would have expected by chance.
The study controlled for the possible increased tendency towards aggression among the population being treated with Chantix and the relationship between varenicline use and violence was still enormous. Thus, these effects seem to be a real side effect of Chantix use.
The article concludes: "Acts of violence towards others are a genuine and serious adverse drug event associated with a relatively small group of drugs. Varenicline, which increases the availability of dopamine, and antidepressants with serotonergic effects were the most strongly and consistently implicated drugs."
This research has led some to conclude that: "the message is clear that while Chantix can prove to be an effective weapon for chronic quitters (smokers who try various magic bullets to kick the habit, only to fail…), the costs to some in terms of Chantix aggression and other Chantix side effects can be potentially devastating."
The Rest of the Story
If, as the anti-smoking groups argue, drugs should be proven to be safe before being allowed on the market for use in smoking cessation, then why aren't these groups demanding that Chantix be immediately removed from the market?
While electronic cigarettes are not known to have any serious adverse side effects, Chantix has been demonstrated to have the most serious possible adverse side effect: death.
If electronic cigarettes need to be removed from the market just on the off-chance that they may have serious side effects, then shouldn't Chantix absolutely be withdrawn from the market since we know that it is currently causing thousands of serious adverse effects?
Why the double standard?
Perhaps the reason has something to do with the fact that all of these anti-smoking groups receives or has received funding from pharmaceutical companies that manufacture smoking cessation drugs (like Chantix) and which may be threatened by the continued sale of electronic cigarettes, which appear to be more effective for smoking cessation than these traditional products.
In fact, every one of these anti-smoking groups have financial relationships with Pfizer itself (the maker of Chantix):
The American Cancer Society and Action on Smoking and Health are recipients of Pfizer funding for tobacco control programs.
The American Cancer Society also has this financial relationship with Pfizer.
Pfizer reports a large number of grants in 2010 to the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids here.
Additionally, Pfizer reports grants in 2009 to the American Legacy Foundation, along with the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Action on Smoking and Health, and American Academy of Pediatrics here.
This money is apparently very well spent. These anti-smoking groups are not biting the hand that feeds them. Despite the fact that it violates the very principles these groups have set out, they are not calling for the removal from the market of Pfizer's drug, even though it is clearly not a safe treatment for smoking cessation and even though they have called for the removal of a potential competitor - electronic cigarettes - from the market in the absence of any demonstration of harm from these devices.
To be clear, I am not arguing that Chantix should be removed from the market. I am only pointing out that the actions of the anti-smoking groups are inconsistent and hypocritical and that the obvious source of this hypocrisy is money: money from Pfizer.
Now you know why corporations are so anxious to donate money to health groups. It buys their silence at important times like this. The savings in corporate profits is well worth the donation.