Friday, September 09, 2011

Canadian National Conference on Tobacco or Health Throws Scientific Integrity Out the Window; Accepts Major Sponsorship from Pfizer

The 7th annual National Conference on Tobacco or Health will be held this November in Toronto.

A leading sponsor of the conference is Pfizer, manufacturer of Chantix, a smoking cessation drug which has come under fire because of its association with suicide, violent behavior, and heart attacks.

One of the major topics of discussion at the conference will be methods for smoking cessation. For example, two of the sessions listed on the preliminary program are "Comprehensive Approaches to Tobacco Cessation and Support in Health Care and Community Settings" and "Cessation: Tried, Tested and Now."

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 would 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?

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. 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.

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.

The International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases (ISPTID) is 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 understand the difficulty of finding funding to support these large meetings. But it is possible to find alternative sources of funding. Failing to do so compromises the scientific integrity of these conferences.

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