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Tobacco publishing ban for researchers at industry-owned firms

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Tobacco publishing ban for researchers at industry-owned firms

A pack of Philip Morris Marlboro brand cigarettes.

Philip Morris International owns various cigarette brands, including Marlboro.Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty

A group of international respiratory societies has banned researchers associated with tobacco companies from publishing papers in their journals after the controversial acquisition of a healthcare firm that makes inhalers by a tobacco giant.

Last year, the Swiss American tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI), which owns some of the world’s popular cigarette brands, took over UK-based pharmaceutical firm Vectura. In response, six health bodies, including the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the European Respiratory Society and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, have issued a joint statement describing the move as “highly unethical and inappropriate”.

“We oppose the use of lung health care technology for addictive and harmful tobacco and nicotine products,” the statement says. It adds that employees of companies owned by the tobacco industry will not be allowed to publish in the societies’ journals or present at meetings, and recommends that patients do not use products newly developed by such firms.

Extended ban

Respiratory societies worldwide have banned researchers directly funded by tobacco companies for more than a decade, says Gregory Downey, a pulmonologist at the University of Colorado Denver and president-elect of the ATS. Now, the organizations have extended that ban to researchers working for firms acquired by tobacco companies.

Scientists at Vectura, which is based in Chippenham, UK, have spent years producing drugs that treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including some smoking-related respiratory illnesses, Downey notes. “That is the ultimate conflict of interest.” He adds that he and his colleagues have opposed PMI’s acquisition of Vectura since the news became public. “The issue is that ‘Big Tobacco’ could use this technology not only to potentially enhance delivery of tobacco-containing substances and nicotine devices, but to addict more people, including children.”

Moira Gilchrist, vice-president of strategic and scientific communications at PMI in Lausanne, Switzerland, says the idea that the company would use Vectura’s technology in this way is “false and without basis”.

“We openly welcome and encourage legitimate critique and debate about our business transformation, but when this morphs into actively ostracizing scientists and attempting to prevent the prescribing of proven medicines for patients, we should pause and think of the implications,” Gilchrist adds.

Downey responds that physicians must act in their patients’ best interests. “We have never said — nor will we ever — that we would discourage our patients from using technologies or bone fide medications developed by a company owned by Big Tobacco.”

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00197-1

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