Saturday, May 24, 2008

Smoking, drugs & hypocrisy

It should not come as any surprise that the biggest beneficiary, monetarily speaking, of the war being waged against smokers is the pharmaceutical industry. The more smokers who can be “encouraged” (or forced) to quit, the greater the sales of smoking cessation products like bupropion SR, nicotine gum, nicotine inhalers, nicotine lozenges, nicotine nasal spray, nicotine patches, and varenicline.

This represents a serious problem of which the public is largely unaware.

The public has been told that “big tobacco” is not to be trusted; that their only objective is to increase revenues from the sale of tobacco products. Tobacco control “experts” foster the belief that any organization or individual accepting funding from the tobacco industry is tainted by their association with big tobacco and should be dismissed out of hand.

Dr. Michael Siegel, himself an anti-smoking advocate, makes the point succinctly in an April 29, 2008 to his blog, The Rest of the Story: Right From the Anti-Smoking Playbook: When You Don't Like Something Someone Says, Accuse Them of Being a Big Tobacco Shill.

The question which has to be answered is whether scientific studies conducted, directly or indirectly, with funding from the pharmaceutical industry are any more reputable or reliable than those conducted with funding from big tobacco. Both aspire to generate income from increased sales of their respective products.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), total expenditures on prescribed and non-prescribed drugs in Canada reached $21.8 billion in 2004.
Obviously, there’s a lot of money to be made from the manufacture, distribution and sale of both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including smoking cessation drugs.

And, the anti-smoker brigade, to a greater and greater degree, is being funded by big pharmaceutical interests. They have a vested interest in imposing restrictions on smoking, via bans and punitive taxation on tobacco products. The more smokers forced to quit, the greater the profits of the drug companies.

And financial support from pharmaceutical interests may well be influencing the decisions of those receiving the funding. This was illustrated in another post by Dr. Siegel: “Press Release on Smoking Cessation Guidelines Fails to Disclose Financial Conflict of Interest of Expert Panelists”, published on May 8, 2008.

Dr. Siegel notes in his post: “A press release issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ) to publicize the findings of a review by an expert panel of the role of clinicians in smoking cessation fails to disclose the significant financial conflicts of interests of the panelists.”

Dr. Siegel remarks that the press release lists drugs approved by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as smoking cessation treatments that “dramatically increase the success of quitting”, including those NRT drugs listed above. He also points out that, “The press release fails to also mention that other research indicates that the overwhelming majority of smokers who quit successfully for the long-term do so via a cold turkey and not a medication-based approach”.

But, the most troubling acknowledgement in the post is that: “Nowhere, however, does the press release mention that 9 of the members of the expert panel, including its chair, have financial conflicts of interest by virtue of having received money from Big Pharma. Most of the companies from which funding was received are precisely those which manufacture or distribute smoking cessation medications and which therefore stand to gain financially from the panel's recommendations”.

He goes on: “While allowing conflicted individuals to serve on the panel is itself questionable, the failure to disclose the conflict in reports of the findings of the panelists is indefensible”.

The hypocrisy of the situation is undeniable. The science and statistics of studies funded by the tobacco industry can be summarily dismissed because they are motivated by profit and personal gain. Studies by organizations and individuals funded by the pharmaceutical industry are accepted without question, despite being motivated by profit and personal gain.

Of course, the drug companies are acting in our best interests, aren’t they? Uh-huh.

And if you buy into that little bit of wisdom, a friend of a friend of mine has some prime ocean front property available on the Saskatchewan/Alberta border. I’d be happy to put in a good word for you.

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