Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Duke a Willing Collaborator in Defrauding the American Public

In agreeing to accept funding from Philip Morris for its Center for Smoking Cessation, Duke acted willingly as a collaborator in the defrauding of the American public.

A review of news articles announcing the funding of the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation by Philip Morris revealed that Philip Morris used this funding as an opportunity to improve its poor public image by making the public believe that the company was committed to getting smokers off of its products. And Duke happily gave Philip Morris a platform to make these fraudulent statements.

According to a 2004 article in the Duke Chronicle: "Philip Morris USA, however, hopes to show with this grant that it recognizes this fact and wants to help smokers who want to quit. "One of our goals is to reduce the harm caused by our products," said Jennifer Golisch, a spokesperson for Philip Morris."

According to a 2008 article in the Duke Chronicle: "Bill Phelps, a spokesperson for Philip Morris, emphasized that the money was given without caveats that could influence the findings. For example, Philip Morris cannot veto publication of research from the center. "We give grants to universities for a variety of reasons," Phelps said. "Some [grants] in the past have been for smoking- and health-related research. We have given a grant to Duke... that is related to our program which is called cessation." ... Phelps ... said Philip Morris is assisting its patrons in whatever way possible. "We think that if smoking is addictive and causes serious issues... we can be helpful in that role of acquittance," he said."

The Rest of the Story

Acquittance is a perfect Freudian slip. I think the word that should have been used was "assistance." But what is behind the Philip Morris grant is actually "acquittance." The chief aim of Philip Morris in funding this research is to be acquitted for the harm it is doing in selling products that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. And what a perfect way to achieve acquittance: by getting the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation to promote Philip Morris to the public and give it a platform for making it appear that the company is committed to getting smokers to quit using its products.

I need to make it clear that I am not blaming Philip Morris for seeking out these public relations opportunities. It is a brilliant strategy and a wise business decision. All successful companies have strong public relations as part of their marketing activities. The entity I am blaming is the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation, because without their willingness to collaborate, this defrauding of the American public could not take place.

The rest of the story is that Duke willingly is collaborating with Philip Morris in defrauding the American public by making it appear that the tobacco company is sincerely committed to getting smokers to get off its products. Of course, that is nonsense. It would be a very bad business decision, would send its stock spiraling down, would jeopardize its dominant market share, and would lead to the firing of the Philip Morris executives. The company's job is to sell cigarettes, not to convince consumers not to use its products.

However, the job of the Duke Medical Center is not to sell cigarettes. Sadly, by collaborating with Philip Morris in the defrauding of the American public, the Duke University Medical Center is actually doing more to market cigarettes than to prevent or reduce their use.

And even more sad is that they just don't get it. In defending the acceptance of Philip Morris money, the Center's director, Dr. Jed Rose, stated: "I recognize that there are widespread opinions that people have about using tobacco funding for research. But the source of the money is less relevant than the conditions [with which] the money is being given."

Baloney. It is the source of the money that is in question here, not the conditions with which it is being given. Philip Morris is not so stupid as to give money in the current decade with many strings attached. That would make it easy for the public to criticize. The brilliance of the company's public relations strategy is that it gives this money without strings attached. Thus, it has the appearance of being part of a sincere effort to undermine its business when it is actually a public relations effort.

That physicians in the Center and at Duke Medical Center are unable to see the role they are playing in undermining efforts to protect the public's health from the chief cause of preventable death is truly sad. And that they are defending it by noting that there are no strings attached is shameful.

One of the "strings" that is attached is that by accepting the money, The Center is aiding Philip Morris in deceiving the public into thinking that the company is committed to getting its customers off of its products. That would be a severe violation of their stockholders' interests and of course, the company wouldn't and arguably is not charged with the responsibility of doing that. However, as part of a medical center, the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation is charged with some important ethical responsibilities. And one of those is not collaborating with Big Tobacco in defrauding the American public. One of those is not playing a role in the public relations and marketing strategies of the deadliest consumer product.

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