Doctors fight against tobacco takeover of inhaled drugs

January 21, 2022 — A tobacco giant has stepped into healthcare, and respiratory specialists are scrambling to thwart the move.

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies, which has 70,000 members worldwide, has issued an “official notice” that its organizations and members “cannot tolerate” working with a company “wholly owned by a tobacco company such as Philip Morris International.” the group said in a statement.

Healthcare professionals lobbied in autumn 2021 to block the sale of British inhaler manufacturer Vectura to tobacco company Philip Morris. But the £1.1 billion (or roughly $1.5 billion) acquisition was completed in September, with nearly 75% of Vectura shareholders backing the deal.

“This acquisition is a dark episode for lung health and health in general and should not be repeated in the future,” the respiratory specialists said in their statement. “Tobacco products remain the leading cause of preventable death and disease worldwide.”

The specialists say they are “terribly disappointed” that shareholders, regulators and the British government have given permission to move forward. “This is just the latest example of tobacco companies diversifying into healthcare, and we are deeply concerned about the implications for patients, scientists and physicians.”

Gregory Downey, MD, president-elect of the American Thoracic Society, is one of the physicians voicing their concern.

“We could not in good conscience remain silent about Philip Morris’s actions,” he said in an email. “We will continue to work with our Forum of International Respiratory Societies partners to protect patients and reduce the global impact of tobacco addiction.”

A key concern: Technology currently used to deliver drugs to treat respiratory diseases can now be used to deliver addictive, non-medical products more efficiently.

In response, Philip Morris International says speculation that the technology will be used for tobacco is “completely false and unfounded”.

The company released a statement saying it plans to increase the overall level of spending on medical research and development at Vectura as it diversifies into healthcare, “to accelerate innovations that will make treatment more effective and affordable for patients.” “

Doctors like Downey worry that tobacco companies’ scientific and sales tactics will re-enter the medical world and harm the public.

“Past scientific misconduct by the industry has created justified mistrust among respiratory researchers and clinicians,” the specialists say in their statement. “As a community united, our organizations will continue to vigorously oppose future acquisitions of healthcare companies by the tobacco industry.”

Scientific mistrust

The group is urging governments to pass legislation, and scientists are planning bold steps, such as banning employees of tobacco companies like Vectura, a company with a 20-year history in healthcare, from publishing articles in their journals or to present at future meetings.

In BMJ magazine, editorial writer Nicholas Hopkinson, of the British Lung Foundation, says “the leopard hasn’t moved.”

Tobacco companies have an “exhaustively documented history of industrial-scale dishonesty,” he says. “This includes lying about the harms of smoking, promoting fake science and misrepresenting the impact of smoking-control measures, as well as widespread misinformation, and participating in corrupt practices.”

Specialists are now calling on healthcare professionals not to prescribe products from a tobacco company. Such products will not be promoted at future group events, including educational and scientific meetings, or at conferences, they say. This follows the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, they say.

In response to the public announcement, Philip Morris International said it would “set a dangerous precedent” if the lobbying and exclusionary efforts of a handful of organizations were successful.

Public opinion

One of the key questions in this debate comes down to the people who simply want their medication to be effective when they need it: does it matter who makes and sells it?

In his argument, Philip Morris argues that public opinion is not on the side of choosing a treatment based on who makes it. A survey of more than 2,000 adults in the United States and the United Kingdom conducted by Povaddo on behalf of Philip Morris found that “65% of respondents indicated that it would be inappropriate for their physician to switch to a new treatment based solely on was out on his or her personal opinion of the manufacturer, even if the medical treatment itself remained exactly the same,” and nearly half (49%) said it was the least important thing for a physician to consider when deciding which treatment to prescribe is, “the firm that makes the treatment.”

For those who completed the survey, having successful treatment was the most important thing.

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