Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Setting an Example for the Integrity of Tobacco Control Science by Discontinuing Sponsorship by Pharmaceutical Companies: ISPTID Leads the Way

On its 2006 annual meeting web site, the International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases (ISPTID) stated that it is "a not-for-profit, academic, scientific and humanitarian organization of health professionals and scientists, independent from any industrial, political, governmental, or ideological group."

The rest of the story, however, is that this very conference - the Fifth Annual Conference of ISPTID - was, according to the web site, sponsored by Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company.

According to an article in its journal - Tobacco Induced Diseases - the Sixth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases, held in Little Rock in 2007, was also sponsored by Pfizer.

According to the article: "Many contributors and sponsors supported this meeting impartially for its intended cause. The meeting was supported by funds from National Institutes of Health which includes support from National Institutes of Drug Abuse and National Cancer Institute. In addition, the meeting was funded by International Society for the Study of Lung Cancer. The corporate funding was received from Pfizer, Inc ... . Without their help the hosting of this meeting at this site would not have been possible. The sponsorship support helped to bring many scientists, graduate students and non-scientists all across the globe."

ISPTID emphasized that Pfizer's sponsorship was critical to the conference and that the very hosting of the meeting in Little Rock "would not have been possible" without Pfizer's support.

The sponsorship by Pfizer is particularly concerning because it creates a possible financial conflict of interest that might be viewed as interfering with the objective discussion of tobacco science issues that involve the assessment of the role of smoking cessation drugs in tobacco control. Discussions at the conference regarding the appropriate role of smoking cessation drugs in tobacco control could potentially have the appearance of being biased by the sponsorship of the conference by Pfizer. More importantly, the Pfizer sponsorship appears to have belied the claim that ISPTID was an organization fully independent of industry groups.

The Rest of the Story

Unlike many other organizations in tobacco control which apparently have not come to understand the fact that pharmaceutical industry sponsorship is problematic because it could potentially interfere with scientific integrity by creating a perceived (or real) financial conflict of interest, the International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Disease has now rejected the idea of pharmaceutical sponsorship.

Under the leadership of its new president, Dr. Taru Kinnunen, ISPTID did not take any pharmaceutical sponsorships and its most recent conferences - including the 8th annual meeting in Boston last September - have not been sponsored in any way by pharmaceutical companies.

At a time when finding funds to pay for conferences like this is getting more difficult, ISPTID - and particularly Dr. Kinnunen - are to be congratulated for taking the principled stand of not relying on pharmaceutical funding.

As I have discussed in earlier columns, in contrast to recent meetings of the ISPTID, both the World Conference on Tobacco and Health and the National Tobacco Control Conference apparently are still accepting pharmaceutical company sponsorships. The 14th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health, which was held in Mumbai, India in March 2009, was sponsored by two of the largest representatives of Big Pharma: GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. The 2007 National Conference on Tobacco or Health was sponsored by Pfizer, as was at least one event at the 2009 Conference. The Sixth National Conference on Tobacco or Health in Canada in 2009 was also sponsored by Pfizer.

The Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT) is heavily conflicted because of its pharmaceutical sponsorship, and it continues to rely on that sponsorship. It currently acknowledges support from three different pharmaceutical companies: GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.

Why is ISPTID one of the few national or international organizations that, despite past acceptance of sponsorships from Big Pharma, has changed and found other ways to support its annual meetings? I can only attribute that, at least in part, to the integrity and character of its leadership, including past president Dr. Taru Kinnunen, who I admire deeply for her commitment, integrity, and passion for improving the public's health, but without sacrificing scientific integrity in the process. I can only hope that more tobacco control groups will follow ISPTID’s lead.

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