Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2009 National Conference on Tobacco or Health Sacrifices Scientific Integrity By Accepting Sponsorship from Big Pharma

The 2009 National Conference on Tobacco or Health, held in Phoenix from June 10-12, included two major program areas related to smoking cessation and the strategies used to promote cessation:

1. "Cessation (CESS)—Includes: reimbursement and insurance issues; telephone quitline services; innovative delivery methods; cessation programs in workplace, health care, or other settings; cessation programs for youth and adults; cessation interventions for specific populations; and cessation training programs and certification."

2. "Nicotine and the Science of Addiction (N&SCI)—Includes: research related to addiction; scientific rationale for tobacco control policies; current research in nicotine and other components of tobacco; and current research in addiction."

The Rest of the Story

The National Conference on Tobacco or Health sacrificed its scientific integrity for money. By accepting this sponsorship from Pfizer, the conference assured that no objective and unconflicted discussion of the effective strategies for smoking cessation could take place.

For example, how could an objective discussion of the risks of Chantix use possibly occur at the conference? To be sure, the conference was not going to highlight or even accept any talks on the deaths caused by Chantix. Doing so would risk future sponsorship.

How could one expect that the conference would include in the program a talk on the hundreds of cases of violent and often fatal adverse effects that have been reported with Chantix when the drug's manufacturer was a major sponsor of the conference?

The pharmaceutical sponsorship creates, by its very existence, an unavoidable bias that precludes a truly objective consideration of any scientific issue that may have significant implications for the profitability of smoking cessation drugs, and therefore, for their manufacturers who are conference sponsors. This bias does not necessarily have to be conscious. In fact, the most concerning bias is that which could arise subconsciously by virtue of the sponsorship of the conference by Big Pharma.

There were numerous papers presented about the effects of smoking cessation drugs. How can these papers present a completely objective picture of the efficacy of these medications when the manufacturers of these drugs are the very sponsors of the conference?

This is in no way to fault the individual scientists who presented on these issues at the conference. Nor is it to suggest that any wrongdoing occurred. It is merely to point out that the pharmaceutical sponsorship creates, by its very existence, an unavoidable bias that precludes a truly objective consideration of any scientific issue that may have significant implications for the profitability of smoking cessation drugs, and therefore, for their manufacturers who are conference sponsors.

The rest of the story is that the funding by Pfizer creates a substantial conflict of interest that precludes the objective consideration of many important scientific issues; in particular, the role of smoking cessation drugs as part of national tobacco control strategies.

Will the 2012 National Conference on Tobacco or Health accept pharmaceutical company sponsorship? I have put the odds of the Conference not accepting Big Pharma funding at 13:1, with the early over/under at $20,000. Readers are invited to place their bets on either the accept/not accept or over/under betting lines. Unlike wealthy political candidates, bets as large as $10,000 are not accepted. We'll stick with friendly bets for now.

No comments: