Monday, September 10, 2012

European Respiratory Society Hides Multiple Financial Conflicts of Interest in Statement Opposing Electronic Cigarette Use

Last week, I revealed that the European Respiratory Society issued a statement that opposes the use of electronic cigarettes, but failed to disclose that the chair of the Society's tobacco control committee has received research funding from Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company that makes a product (Chantix) which is a competitor to electronic cigarettes in the smoking cessation market and thus stands to lose enormously if electronic cigarettes become more popular.

Today, I reveal that the European Respiratory Society is also hiding from the public its own financial conflicts of interest with multiple pharmaceutical companies that manufacture competing products to electronic cigarettes and that, in short, the Society failed to disclose in its statement opposing electronic cigarette use that it is basically a marketing arm of the pharmaceutical industry.

The Rest of the Story

The European Respiratory Society's 2012 annual meeting was sponsored, in part, by a number of pharmaceutical companies, including:
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • AstraZeneca
  • Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Actelion
  • InterMune
  • United Therapeutics
Sadly, this was just for the prizes awarded at the meeting. A fuller list of ERS sponsors is provided in its sponsor benefits handbook, which boasts of tons of sponsorship opportunities, including evening symposia, mini-symposia, industry expert forums, practical workshops, the Congress bag, the final program smartphone app, notepads and pens, and even post-it tags for the front cover of the program book. Listed sponsors include:

  • Actelion Pharmaceuticals Ltd
  • AlmirallAstraZeneca
  • Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals
  • Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Chiesi Farmaceutici SpA
  • Eli Lilly & Company
  • GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals
  • Grifols (formerly Talecris Biotherapeutics GmbH)
  • InterMune
  • MSD
  • Mundipharma
  • Novartis Pharma AG
  • Nycomed
  • OM Pharma SA
  • Pfizer Ltd
  • United Therapeutics Europe LTD
If you look at the conference program, you'll see that it is a virtual marketing bonanza for pharmaceutical companies. Numerous scientific meetings, workshops, and other events are sponsored by a multitude of different pharmaceutical companies.

Despite this immense financial relationship between the European Respiratory Society and Big Pharma, the ERS statement on electronic cigarettes does not disclose these relationships. In my view, this is a serious ethical breach. Because smoking cessation products made by a number of these pharmaceutical companies are direct competitors to electronic cigarettes, the public deserves to know about the ERS' financial connections with these companies.

The rest of the story is that the European Respiratory Society is yet the latest organization to oppose electronic cigarettes while hiding the fact that it receives money from pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market competing products. In this light, it is little surprise that the ERS opposes e-cigarettes. 

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