Philip-Morris Smoking over Conflicts of Interest on FDA Tobacco Panel

by GoozNews ~ 30 Apr 2010 08:21am
I’m for eliminating advisers with conflicts of interest from FDA advisory panels. I spent five years of my professional life advocating for that position. But finding myself in bed with the tobacco industry is a tad uncomfortable. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Altria’s Philip Morris subsidiary is objecting to four members of the FDA’s new tobacco advisory panel because they served as expert witnesses for plaintiffs who filed suit against the tobacco industry. Jonathan Samet at the University of Southern California, who chairs the committee, also advises companies that make smoking cessation products.

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  1. CRE

    MERRILL GOOZNER spent more than 25 years in the news business as a foreign correspondent, economics writer and investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune and other publications. He reported from over a dozen countries while posted in Chicago, Tokyo, New York and Washington. His jobs included Chief Asia Correspondent (1991-95), New York Financial Correspondent (1996-1998) and Chief Economics Correspondent (1998-2000).

    From December 2003 to March 2009, he directed the Integrity in Science project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

  2. Anonymous

    Big Pharma rumbles with Big Tobacco

    By: Timothy P. Carney
    Examiner Columnist
    May 14, 2010

    Federal officials are planning new regulations on tobacco products, including those marketed as alternatives to smoking — such as dissolvable tobacco tablets sold by Camel. But some of the men and women on the government’s official advisory panel have financial ties to the drug companies selling competing products, such as Nicorette. One government adviser even holds a patent for a new nicotine gum.

    It’s a full-fledged regulatory rumble between Big Tobacco and the even bigger Big Pharma — the sort of ugly influence game that will become the norm as government sticks its arms deeper into the economy.

    Some quick background: Philip Morris, which controls about half of the U.S. cigarette market is doubling down on smokeless tobacco products, such as chew and snuff. It has lobbied tirelessly over a decade for the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco. President Obama signed the bill last June, misleadingly trumpeting it as a triumph over the lobbying efforts of Big Tobacco.

    The law creates a Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee that gives the FDA guidance in implementing the new regulations. Now Philip Morris — the godfather of this law — is raising a fuss over the conflicts of interest littering the committee.

    For instance, Jack Henningfield is one of nine voting members on the TPSAC, and he is also one of eight patent holders of a cutting-edge nicotine chewing gum that has not yet been commercialized.

    Henningfield is also vice president of health policy at a consulting firm that counts drug maker GlaxoSmithKline as a client. Glaxo holds the license for Nicorette, the leading nicotine gum currently on the market.

    Multiple conflicts present themselves here:

    As regulations on cigarettes become more restrictive, they become harder to get. This makes them more expensive, increasing market demand for a product like Henningfield’s.

    But cigarettes are not the real battleground here — cigarette alternatives are.

    TPSAC is looking into the safety of dissolvable tobacco products, such as R.J. Reynolds’ Camel Orbs, small tablets that melt in the mouth — a quick fix for a smoking addict stuck on a plane or in a meeting. One TPSAC member, Gregory Connolly, has attacked them for being too candylike, thus appealing to kids.

    But is nicotine gum like candy? How about the brand new mint-flavored Nicorette Mini lozenges?

    Camel Orbs may or may not be a real health risk, but they are certainly competition to Nicorette’s gums and lozenges — and Henningfield’s patented gum. Yet our government will count on Henningfield and others in the pay of Nicorette’s maker for counsel on how to regulate Camel’s product.

    Neal Benowitz, another committee member, has also worked as a consultant to Glaxo as well as Pfizer, the Wall Street Journal has reported. Pfizer makes the quit-smoking drug Chantix.

    Boston University professor Michael Siegel has reported on his blog that the committee’s chairman, Dr. Jonathan Samet, “has received grant support from GlaxoSmithKline. In addition, the organization that he directed — the Institute for Global Tobacco Control — is funded by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer.”

    Finally, committee member Dorothy Hatsukami has been paid by a small drug maker to study its proposed nicotine vaccine.

    A tobacco industry consultant brought my attention to the drug maker conflicts on TPSAC, knowing that I have been calling out Big Tobacco since 2006 for its use of Big Government to kill competition and lock in market share. Now the tobacco companies worry that Big Pharma — the nation’s biggest industry in terms of lobbying spending, and a crucial ally of the Obama administration — will use its government clout to unfairly crush tobacco products in favor of Pharma-made nicotine products.

    It’s an ugly game, this use of regulation to kill competitors and guarantee business, and conflicts of interest are unavoidable. The Pharma-vs-Big Tobacco scrum shows that Obama’s project of increasing government control is at odds with his talk of cleaning up government.

    Timothy P. Carney is the Washington Examiner’s lobbying editor. His K Street column appears on

    Read more at the Washington Examiner:

  3. Anonymous

    GlaxoSmithKline lie about smokeless tobacco

    From the Nicorette website:

    “A lot of people believe that taking smokeless tobacco is safer than smoking cigarettes. This is not true.”

    This is an outright lie. Smokeless tobacco is far safer than smoking cigarettes. Perhaps Glaxo’s justification for this statement is that there are still health risks associated with smokeless tobacco. And so there are, just as there is a risk involved with most things in life, but they are tiny compared to the risks associated with smoking cigarettes. Glaxo might just as well say:

    A lot of people believe that eating chocolate is safer than smoking cigarettes. This is not true.

    Or, indeed:

    A lot of people believe that using Nicorette is safer than smoking cigarettes. This is not true.

    We have seen this kind of fabrication before from the US Surgeon General (amongst others). Under the Data Quality Act, his office finally had to retract the lie that smokeless is not safer. I covered this in an article entitled The Untouchables back in 2008.

    In 2004, the National Legal and Policy Center complained about a statement in a booklet produced by the National Institute on Aging which read: “Some people think smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff), pipes, and cigars are safer than cigarettes. They are not.” This was, of course, false. Smokeless tobacco is known to be around 98% safer than cigarettes. The complaint was upheld and as a result, the US Government is no longer allowed to pretend that the health risks associated with smokeless tobacco are as great as those associated with cigarettes*.

    The upshot is that the National Institute on Aging now says: “Some people think smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff), pipes, and cigars are safe. They are not.” And former Surgeon General Richard Carmona – whose 2006 report into passive smoking is one big DQA complaint waiting to happen – had to subtly change his tune from “smokeless tobacco is not a safer substitute for cigarette smoking” to “smokeless tobacco is not a safe substitute for cigarette smoking” (my italics).

    A slender difference indeed, but an important one, because at least now these statements are not outright lies. What has replaced them may still be misleading – they do not hint at how much safer smokeless tobacco is – but, as Jacob Sullum asked sardonically in Reason magazine, “Why lie about smokeless tobacco when a misleading half-truth will do?” Demanding half-truths rather than outright lies from the anti-smoking lobby might be the most that can be hoped for in this day and age. The Data Quality Act may be the only way to get them.

    * Anti-smoking groups, websites and charities who are not publicly owned remain be free to lie about smokeless tobacco and frequently do. For example: “The fact is, chewing tobacco is every bit as dangerous as smoking it.” or “There’s a widely held myth that smokeless tobacco is a safe alternative to cigarettes, when actually it’s just as dangerous as smoking.”

    Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

    Thanks to Bill Godshall for the tip.

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