Today, I reveal that the 2012 National Conference on Tobacco or Health is sponsored by Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company that manufactures Chantix, a major smoking cessation drug. Pfizer is listed as a "Silver" sponsor. The benefits of this sponsorship for Pfizer include the following:
- "Sponsor recognition in all printed conference materials";
- "Sponsor recognition on all print and web materials";
- "Complementary exhibit booth space";
- "Complementary program ad space";
- "Complementary usage of conference participant list"; and
- "Sponsor logo and website link on the NCTOH website."
The Rest of the Story
The National Conference on Tobacco or Health has sacrificed its scientific integrity for money. By accepting this sponsorship from Pfizer, the conference has assured that no objective and unconflicted discussion of the effective strategies for smoking cessation can take place.
For example, how can an objective discussion of the risks of Chantix use possibly occur at the conference? To be sure, the conference is not going to highlight or even accept any talks on the deaths caused by Chantix. Doing so would risk future sponsorship.
How can one expect that the conference will 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 is a major sponsor of the conference?
This 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 will, to be sure, be 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 will present on these issues at the conference. Nor is it to suggest that any wrongdoing is occurring. 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.
To make matters even worse, by virtue of the benefits given to sponsoring companies, the National Conference on Tobacco or Health is serving as a marketing partner for Pfizer. It is helping Pfizer to market its products by, for example, providing complementary advertising space and by providing the conference participant list, as well as by placing the company logo on its website.
And all this for what? Very simple. For money.
It is sad for me to see the tobacco control movement sacrificing its scientific integrity and undermining the public's trust simply for financial reasons.
I call on the National Conference on Tobacco or Health to return Pfizer's money and to institute a policy of rejecting pharmaceutical company sponsorship of its conferences. Otherwise, it can no longer claim to be an objective scientific conference which serves the purpose of undertaking an objective, evidence-based consideration of "the latest evidence on what works in tobacco control."