Friday, 11 October 2013

Big Pharma versus e-cigarettes

Big Pharma's massive lobbying effort in Brussels has received very little attention so it's a pleasant surprise to see that German television has lifted the lid an inch or two on the funding of the many alleged 'public health' groups that have been involved with the Tobacco Products Directive. The video is here (I can't embed it) and it is, of course, in German. A rough translation is below...


Introduction by presenter: Lobbyists – most people imagine them to be sinister folk running around in dark suits, carrying suitcases. But it’s not that simple. Basically lobbyists are people that fight for certain interests. One example: The EU parliament negotiated over a stricter tobacco directive. In the process, many, many lobbyists had been active in order to present their arguments. There have been representatives by the tobacco industry but also representatives of anti-tobacco campaigners. Does that mean “bad lobbyists” versus “good lobbyists”? Katharina von Tschurtschenthaler and Ekkehard Sieker say: There’s more than just the mere “black and white”…


Broadcast: We’re in the EU parliament. Those are the remainders of little goodies by the tobacco industry (camera shows cigarette samples). Plus countless cover letters by tobacco companies urging MEPs not to support this “wrong” Tobacco Directive. Working against these lobbyists there are anti-tobacco campaigning groups with more than 100 people of staff and million-Euro budgets.

Quote Florence Berteletti, director SmokeFree Partnership: “We at SmokeFree Partnership are only two people of staff. Those responsible for Tobacco Control in Brussels you can count on one hand”.

For her point of view, the bible story of David and Goliath needs to be referred to. On the one hand you have the giant Goliath, representing the evil: The big tobacco industry. One the other hand you have little David, representing the good. However: Is David really that weak? Let’s have a closer look at her organization the SmokeFree Partnership. These tobacco opponents receive funding by the pharma industry, it says in this handbook on patient groups published by the EU. Obviously the anti tobacco groups are not that weak at all.

(Camera shows Smoke-Free sign and consecutively logos of pharma companies)

Our little David has got some true giants as friends! Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, GSK, Pfizer – Well, big pharma!

However: What is their interest? Saving mankind from death of smoking, out of altruism? Or are we talking about clear economic interests? Maybe it’s all about this: This is an e-cigarette! (camera shows e-cig) Already a substitute to regular cigarettes for many people. A giant future market. The pharma industry wants e-cigarettes regulated just as strictly as many other nicotine surrogates such as nicotine chewing gums or patches.

The boss of the SmokeFree Partnership also wants this, arguing that this would be the only way to ensure the e-cigarettes helps smokers quit. Quote Florence Berteletti : “If they were on the market unregulated, who’s supposed to do the research on this?” Sounds reasonable at first listen.

Among MEPs, the SmokeFree Partnership has got a good reputation as independent anti-tobacco group. Is that justified?

Quote MEP Carl Schlyter (Green Party, Sweden): “According to my internet research I was not able to detect any connection to the pharma industry.”

Quote MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (Social Democrats, Germany): “I cannot tell you how that organization is being funded. Actually we don’t really know that with several NGOs. However I support this organisation’s goals and I honestly I cannot imagine which industry association should have an interest in supporting them except for altruistic interests.”

A mere altruistic interest? The SmokeFree Partnership was been funded with at least €18,000 from pharma companies in 2012. But indirectly it’s quite a lot more than that. For example let’s go back to 2009, to the campaign “Tobacco Free Europe”, aiming directly at MEPs, showing the death toll of smokers. The campaign was co-organized by SmokeFreePartnership. Pfizer & Co. had funded this with €90,000 (camera shows leaflet indicating the fundings in a cake diagram).

However, our little David has got some further powerful friends, like the ERS. It’s the founding partner of SmokeFree Partnership. ERS organizes conventions on medical and pharma topics like the one in Barcelona in 2013, predominantly sponsored by the pharma industry. Doesn’t the pharma industry influence SmokeFree Partnership via the ERS?

Quote Florence Berteletti: “I am the director of the SmokeFree Partnership. If you have a question concerning the pharma industry and ERS, why don’t you approach ERS?”

But we’re already there. ERS and SmokeFree Partnership use the same mailbox and the same e-mail-address. And Ms Berteletti had been ERS staff member until recently. Is that independence?

Quote Florence Berteletti: “We are not funded financially by the pharma industry. We do not represent any of their interests.” Up until the end of our conversation, the SmokeFree Partnership insists on its independence. On the day prior to the parliamentary vote the SmokeFree Partnership sends this appeal to the MEPs (camera shows leaflet with shock pictures including small children), in cooperation with a new partner: the EFA. This organization received as much as €490,000 from the pharma industy, according to official EU documents.

And what did our weak David achieve now? Well, first of all some sort of stalemate. Since – as opposed to other media coverage – the EU parliament yesterday did NOT pass a final/ definite ruling on tobacco control and it is not sure yet who’ll be able to make the big business with e-cigarettes. David and Goliath enter the next round.


Outro by presenter: There may be dispute of details of a regulation. However it should by any means always be clear and transparent who’s arguing in whose name and for whose interests.






10 comments:

Fredrik Eich said...

"You inhale menthol more deeply , they're more damaging to your health as every Doctor will tell you" - Linda McAvan MP on Daily
Politics today 58 minutes in.

Well every Doctor apart from this one

"Menthol Cigarette Ban Dying a Slow Death, As Predicted; New Study Shows Lower Lung Cancer Risk Among Menthol Cigarette Smokers"

Ivan D said...

Can you imagine Panorama running something like this?

Ben said...

"German television has lifted the lid an inch or two on the funding of the many alleged 'public health' groups"
A surprise indeed, a very big surprise!

mark entwistle said...

I was unaware to reading your work, of the ongoign duplicty of the anti tobacco movement. It is an eye opener and very worthwhile work. the rapacious Tobacco industry really is only one half of this picture. It is shocking to realise that the anti smoking lobby is prepared to sacrifice lives in its at all costs opposition the industry.

Klaus Kblog said...

Smoke Free Partnership were one of the frontgroups behind the flawed report: "Lifting the Smokescreen", which has been trashed by Dr. Robert Molimard.

The report came out with perfect timing in 2006, and was a heavy argument for the Danish smoking ban in 2007.

Other groups behind the report were European Respiratory Society, Cancer Research UK and European Heart Network. The report was paid for by the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer & GlaxoSmithKline.

http://dengulenegl.dk/blog/?p=558

Maybe Google can help translating this article. It says that even with the flawed methods & figures in the report, it is not possible to attribute more than 1 death pr year from passive smoking in the Danish hospitality industry.

Wiel said...

Smokefree Partnership was also the organisation that sabotaged the TICAP conference in the EU parliament.

Klaus Kblog said...

The Tobacco Products Directive relies on a horrible report made by the a so-called "independent consultancy" from RAND Europe: Assessing the Impacts of revising the Tobacco Products Directive

http://ec.europa.eu/health/tobacco/docs/tobacco_ia_rand_en.pdf

The report is a bonanza of wrong data, flawed assumptions, poor evidence and misleading conclusions - especially regarding the health and economic factors of smoking.

One of the flawed assumptions is that the impact of TPD will be that "smoking-related disease" will more than half in several EU-countries by 2017, and fall to zero by 2027 (!). Other flawed assumptions are the well-known public health-habit of only considering the negative economic impacts of smoking, not all the known positive factors ...

Three weeks after the release of the RAND report, three meetings were held in the EU-commissions health office DG SANCO where the "stakeholders" had their say:

1. Eight NGO's - all with financial ties to Big Pharma, incl. SmokeFree Partnership.
2. Four Big Pharma companies & their industry organisation
3. A lot of tobacco companies, retailers & wholesellers, trade federations, tourist unions & food organisations ... all the real-life stakeholders.

http://ec.europa.eu/health/tobacco/events/ev_20101019_en.htm

It is quite clear from these documents and the subsequent directive that both the RAND report and DG SANCO are siding with Pharma and the NGO's, and that the tobacco industry & all the trading stakeholders were not listened to at all. This was also the case of the public hearing in oct-dec 2010, were 85.000 public opinions about the proposals were dismised by DG SANCO.

This shows that the whole process behind the Tobacco directive was rigged.

Klaus Kblog said...

Another interesting document with many links from SmokeFree Partnership:

http://www.smokefreepartnership.eu/news/briefing-revision-2001-tobacco-products-directive

(see the first one: Briefing_on_the_Revision_of_the_TPD_Jul2012_web.pdf )

Whoever wrote this is deeply into the political process of the directive.

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