Doctors Fight Tobacco Takeover of Inhaled Medicines

Doctors Fight Tobacco Takeover of Inhaled Medicines

A tobacco giant has stepped into the healthcare business and respiratory specialists are doing their best to thwart the move. The Forum of International Respiratory Societies – representing 70,000 members worldwide – has served “official notice” that their organizations and members “cannot condone” new interactions with any enterprise “wholly owned by a tobacco company such as Philip Morris International,” the group warned in a statement.

Health professionals lobbied in the fall of 2021 to block the sale of British inhaler manufacturer Vectura to tobacco company Philip Morris. However, the 1.1 billion-pound (or USD 1.5 billion) acquisition proceeded in September when Vectura shareholders accepted the more than $2 US per-share offer from the tobacco company, with nearly 75% backing the deal.

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

The specialists say they are “terribly disappointed” that shareholders, regulators, and the UK government allowed the acquisition. “This is just the latest example of tobacco companies diversifying into healthcare and we are very concerned about the implications for patients, scientists, and doctors.”

Gregory Downey, MD, and president-elect of the American Thoracic Society, is among physician leaders voicing concerns. “We could not, in good conscience, remain silent with regard to Philip Morris’ actions,” he tells WebMD and Medscape in an email. “We will continue to work with our Forum of International Respiratory Societies partners to protect patients and to reduce the global impact of tobacco addiction.”

A key concern: The technology currently used to deliver medicine to treat respiratory illnesses can now be used to more efficiently deliver addictive, nonmedical products.

In response, Philip Morris International says the speculation the technology will be used in this way is “entirely false and without basis.”

The company issued a statement pointing out that as it diversifies into healthcare, it intends to increase the total level of expenditure on medical research and development at Vectura, “speeding up innovations that will make treatment more effective and affordable for patients.”

Doctors like Downey worry that tobacco company scientific and sales tactics will re-enter the medical field and harm the public. “Past scientific misconduct by the industry has sown justifiable mistrust on the part of respiratory researchers and clinicians,” the specialists explain in their statement. “Unified as a community, our organizations will continue to strenuously oppose future acquisitions of healthcare companies by the tobacco industry.”

Scientific Mistrust

The specialists urge governments to enact legislation and scientists are planning bold steps, such as banning employees of tobacco-owned enterprises like Vectura, a company with a 20-year history in healthcare, from publishing papers in their journals or presenting at future meetings.

In the British Medical Journal , editorialist Nicholas Hopkinson, from the British Lung Foundation, says “the leopard has not changed its spots.” Tobacco companies have an “exhaustively documented history of dishonesty on an industrial scale”, he notes. “This includes lying about the harms of smoking, propagating bogus science and misrepresenting the impact of measures to curb smoking as well as widespread disinformation, and engaging in corrupt practices.”

Specialists are now advocating for healthcare professionals to not prescribe products from a tobacco-owned company. No such products will be promoted at future group events, including educational and scientific meetings, or at any conferences, they point out. This, the society members add, is in accordance with the rules, ethical codes, and the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Responding to the public notice, Philip Morris International says it would “set a dangerous precedent” if the lobbying and exclusion efforts of a handful of organizations were to succeed. “Because putting patients first should be the only concern for those developing, prescribing and dispensing medicine.”

Public Opinion

One of the main questions in this debate boils down to the folks who simply want their medication to be effective when they need it: Does it matter who makes and sells it?

In making its case, Phillip Morris claims that public opinion is not on the side of choosing a treatment based on who manufactures 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 International shows “65% of respondents stated that it would be inappropriate for their doctor to switch them to a new treatment based solely on his or her personal opinion of the manufacturer, even if the medical treatment itself remained exactly the same,” and nearly half (49%) of respondents stated that the least important factor for a doctor to consider when deciding which treatment to prescribe is “the company that makes the treatment.”

For the survey respondents, having a treatment that will be successful was the most important factor. As for medical specialists taking retaliatory steps against industry professionals, 60% of people surveyed said it is not acceptable to exclude scientists from scientific conferences and forums based solely on their employer’s corporate ownership.

WebMD and Medscape will continue to follow this ongoing debate.

Source: Read Full Article