Tuesday, May 07, 2013

In Ultimate Irony, Duke is Recognized for Smoking Cessation Programs

In an irony of epic proportions, Duke has been recognized by the North Carolina Prevention Partners for its model smoking cessation efforts.

According to an article in Duke Today: "Duke's tobacco cessation programs for employees have been recognized by the NC Prevention Partners with the designation as a Gold Star Standard Hospital. The Gold Star Standard recognizes Duke's efforts to refers employees to effective quit programs, provide comprehensive benefits such as nicotine replacement therapy and prescription medications and offer attractive incentives to encourage employees to quit tobacco use. ... 'Duke University Medical Center continues to set a high bar in terms of their cessation program for employees,' said Anne Thornhill, director at NC Prevention Partners. 'They are doing a great job in supporting their employees in quitting the use of tobacco. I applaud their great effort.'"

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that for about 8 years (from 2004-2012), Duke served as a public relations arm for Philip Morris, accepting $37 million in funding from Big Tobacco to help the nation's leading tobacco company achieve its marketing goal of legitimizing itself as a corporation sincerely interested in helping smokers to quit.

According to Philip Morris: "Since 2004, PM USA has supported the Duke Center for Nicotine and Cessation Research. PM USA expects to provide a total of $37 million to the center through June 2012 to develop, evaluate and disseminate improved methods for quitting smoking."

According to the agreement between Duke and Philip Morris, the director of Duke's nicotine research center (or a designee) became 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 rest of the story is that rather than being a model for tobacco control for the nation, Duke is instead an example of exactly the opposite. It is perhaps a model, but a model for the most egregious violation of medical ethics. Duke allowed itself and its reputation and good name to be used as a public relations ploy for a tobacco company. Duke allowed itself to be used as a pawn in the public relations and marketing strategy of Philip Morris.

Clearly, since the purpose of this research funding was demonstrably not to dramatically reduce the number of smokers, its purpose was therefore to serve as a public relations ploy - by which Philip Morris could improve its public image by being able to argue that it really cares and that it is a responsible corporate citizen which is trying to help its customers break their addiction to its products. By associating its name with that of Duke University, Philip Morris used Duke to gain public relations marketing value from that association. Clearly, there was no sincere research interest operating here on the part of Philip Morris. This was public relations 101. Using corporate funding to secure public credibility and respect. It was part of Philip Morris' (and the other tobacco companies') playbook for decades.

The rest of the story is that Duke undermined its own scientific integrity and that of academia as a whole by allowing itself to serve as a pawn in the tobacco industry's public relations and marketing strategy. A university - and especially a medical center - should not play a role in marketing the most deadly consumer product. But that is exactly what Duke did.

Rather than being recognized as a model for tobacco control, Duke should instead be entered into the Hall of Shame as a medical center that put money over ethical integrity.

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