Monday, September 21, 2009

American Legacy Foundation Policy Statement on Electronic Cigarettes Fails to Disclose Financial Conflict of Interest with Big Pharma

Friday, I reported that the American Legacy Foundation has issued a policy statement calling for the FDA to pull electronic cigarettes from the market. I criticized this policy because it is essentially saying that Legacy would rather that ex-smokers who have successfully quit smoking using e-cigarettes return to conventional cigarette smoking, rather than remain off tobacco cigarettes. I argued that this undermines Legacy's own goal of promoting smoking cessation. Why condemn hundreds of thousands of ex-smokers to have to return to cigarette smoking and suffer the serious known health consequences? So many of these ex-smokers have already experienced a dramatic improvement in their health. It seems criminal to sentence these vapers to a return to the morbidity they were experiencing on regular cigarettes.

Up until this post, I had determined that every national anti-smoking group supporting a ban on electronic cigarettes had a substantial financial interest in Big Pharma, and specifically, in companies that manufacture traditional nicotine replacement medications and other cessation pharmaceuticals, and which are therefore threatened financially by the marketing of electronic cigarettes as an alternative to cigarette smoking, and as an alternative way to quit smoking (as opposed to using NRT products or other smoking cessation pharmaceutical aids).

The Rest of the Story

Today (thanks to comments by my readers to the previous post), I report that the pattern of every national anti-smoking group which has called for a ban on e-cigarettes being funded by Big Pharma is still intact. Because the rest of the story is that, as it turns out, the American Legacy Foundation is indeed funded by Big Pharma.

According to Legacy's web site, the Foundation receives support from Pfizer. The manufacturer of the smoking cessation drugs Chantix and Nicotrol NS is listed as a Legacy contributor. In addition, Pfizer has provided sponsorship support to help Legacy conduct a survey of physician support for smoking cessation. Not surprisingly, that study concluded that physicians must be urged to recommend more smoking cessation drugs for their patients. Also not surprisingly, the stop smoking program that Legacy runs insists upon pharmaceutical use by every individual trying to quit - no place for cold turkey quitting according to the Pfizer-sponsored American Legacy Foundation.

Particularly troubling is the fact that the American Legacy Foundation fails to disclose its financial conflict of interest with Big Pharma in its policy statement on electronic cigarettes (or in its quit guide on the Become an Ex web site). If you are going to issue a policy on electronic cigarettes, lobbying the FDA to ban these devices, I think you have an obligation to disclose any financial conflicts of interest that might be perceived as having a potential influence on your policy position. Certainly, financial support from a company that stands to lose millions from the sale of e-cigarettes constitutes a relevant conflict of interest that should be disclosed.

So the record remains intact. Every national anti-smoking group which has called for a ban on electronic cigarettes has a financial conflict of interest with Big Pharma. Moreover, these conflicts of interest have not been disclosed in the policy statements issued by these organizations. Here, the American Legacy Foundation has issued a policy statement on e-cigarettes without disclosing that it receives funding from Pfizer, which stands to lose financially from the continued sale of these products, which are now directly competing with Pfizer products for the smoking cessation market.

This is a conflict of interest that should, and must, be disclosed. To hide such a conflict in statements regarding national policy is, in my view, unethical.

No comments: