It’s Official: Big Pharma is Lobbying Against Electronic Cigarettes- Dr. Michael Siegel June 20 2014
I have long argued that tobacco control advocates who have financial ties to Big Pharma must disclose these ties if they opine about national strategies for electronic cigarette regulation because these ties represent a conflict of interest. My argument was based on the premise that electronic cigarettes represent a major form of market competition with pharmaceutical cessation aids and that drug companies, therefore, have a financial interest in seeing electronic cigarettes squashed.
Today, I reveal that this speculation about pharmaceutical financial interests in the demise of e-cigarettes was not just speculation, but it has now been confirmed.
According to an article in the London Times, GlaxoSmithKline – a major player in the pharmaceutical smoking cessation industry – has lobbied vigorously on behalf of stringent electronic cigarette regulation in the European Union. Specifically, a leaked memo apparently showed that Glaxo was telling policymakers that electronic cigarettes could be a gateway to smoking and that these products should be regulated as medicines, not as a type of nicotine or tobacco product.
According to the article: “One of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies has warned lawmakers that electronic cigarettes could act as a “gateway to tobacco”. The leaked correspondence from GlaxoSmithKline, whose nicotine patches, gums and lozenges are being undermined by the burgeoning e-cigarette market, reveals the opposition from the pharmaceutical industry to impending regulation of e-cigarettes across the European Union. The pharmaceutical industry wants medicines licenses to be mandatory for e-cigarettes, as they are for nicotine products. Instead, the EU is set to introduce a system in which e-cigarette companies can opt-in for medicines regulation or be regulated in a similar way to traditional cigarettes.”
“As usual, both these companies are main sponsors of the conference—apparently there is no problem having corporations that are vociferously opposed to the most promising development in smoking cessation paying for a conference about smoking cessation.”
The Rest of the Story
Financial interests in Big Pharma must now be recognized as conflicts of interest for any organization or individual who is offering opinions about national strategy, policy, or regulations regarding electronic cigarettes. Therefore, the authors of all scientific articles regarding electronic cigarettes must disclose any financial interests with pharmaceutical companies. Furthermore, organizations must also disclose any financial ties to Big Pharma when they offer recommendations regarding electronic cigarette policy.
Unfortunately, there have been numerous violations of this disclosure standard, as several commentators on electronic cigarette policy have failed to disclose their Big Pharma ties in published articles. I have highlighted many of these stories on my blog, but for one demonstrative example, see my column on failed disclosures by an individual and an organization in the New York Times debate on electronic cigarettes.
Another inexcusable conflict of interest is the fact that Mitch Zeller, the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products and therefore the chief author of the proposed electronic cigarette regulations, came to the FDA directly from a consulting job with GlaxoSmithKline and therefore has a severe conflict of interest regarding the electronic cigarette issue.
Moreover, several former members (and one current member) of the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee have (or have had) financial conflicts of interest with Big Pharma, and thus are not in a position to offer opinions about national tobacco product regulation in the context of this expert advisory panel.
And finally, it appears that most of the national tobacco control conferences continue to be funded by pharmaceutical companies. There is no way that these conferences can be objective about smoking policy, especially regarding electronic cigarettes and smoking cessation, when they are funded by Big Pharma.