Thursday, March 11, 2010

Duke University "Branch" of Philip Morris Puts Out Study that Perpetuates Focus on Nicotine Biology and Obscures Need for Effective Cessation Approach

An academic research unit that is apparently serving as the "Duke University branch" of Philip Morris has just put out a study which perpetuates the blinding focus on nicotine biology, thus obscuring the importance of an approach to smoking cessation that actually works and would make a dent in Philip Morris' profits.

The work was carried out by the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research (or "Philip Morris South," as I would call it), which received multi-million dollar funding from Philip Morris. As I revealed earlier, according to the agreement between Philip Morris and its "southern affiliate," the director of Duke's nicotine research center (or a designee) becomes a formal part of Philip Morris' public relations efforts, by virtue of appointment to the Advisory Board of the company's "smoker cessation support initiative."

The focus of the Duke Center's work has been on nicotine replacement therapy. It makes sense that the company would be happy to support such research because we know that nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is dismally effective in getting smokers to quit. There is considerable research that cold turkey and unplanned, unaided quit attempts are more effective in achieving smoking cessation than the use of NRT. Thus, any research which continues to perpetuate the research community's focus on nicotine biology is a win, win situation for Philip Morris. The company not only gets to boast that it is funding research to "help smokers quit," but it can do so while funding a research program that actually impedes progress towards effective cessation strategies by taking the focus off the need for aggressive strategies to promote cessation, rather than a pure reliance on pharmaceuticals.

The research released last week, which was funded by Philip Morris, makes the major contribution of informing us that smokers take up nicotine in their brains more slowly than previously thought.

The implications? A continued need for more research on nicotine biology, taking the focus away from the need for aggressive anti-smoking programs, which are the only effective way of actually making a difference in quit rates.

The Rest of the Story

This research couldn't have been any better planned for Philip Morris than had it been designed by Philip Morris' own public relations department.

Actually, in a way it was, because Duke University is now serving as a PR arm for Philip Morris, by virtue of its accepting this tobacco money to conduct a research program that is clearly going to have the effect of diverting attention away from areas where we could really make a difference in getting people to quit smoking.

For tax or accounting purposes, Philip Morris should really classify these research dollars under "public relations." And they are sure getting their money's worth.

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