Wednesday 3 June 2015

Another sales pitch from the Irish Cancer Society

In April, the Irish Cancer Society were doing their utmost to "cast doubt on how useful e-cigarettes are in helping smokers quit". Grossly misrepresenting the results of their own survey, they falsely claimed that five per cent of smokers had used an e-cigarette before they started smoking.

After knocking the competition, Kathleen O’Meara, the organisation's Head of Advocacy and Communications, launched into something that sounded very much like a sales pitch for pharmaceutical nicotine products, saying "there are better, more proven ways to quit smoking than choosing devices that still have no regulations in Ireland... There are more effective treatments that have been proven to increase your chances of quitting up to four times."

She was referring to nicotine patches, sprays and gums of the kind sold by Pfizer, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche, all of whom happen to be big money sponsors of the Irish Cancer Society.

Selling 'nicotine replacement therapy' to smokers is a lucrative business for the pharmaceutical industry but it is nickel and dime stuff compared to selling it in bulk to governments. That's why Glaxo's Director of Global Commercial Strategy told the World Health Organisation in the early days of their funding of tobacco control projects: "We could use help in the area of reimbursement."

Reimbursement means getting the government to buy whole shipments of stop-smoking drugs and dishing them out to the public at the taxpayers' expense, as he explained:

Zyban was first launched in the US, but as yet there is minimal reimbursement for Zyban in the US. In the US, 42% of people on Medicaid smoke. Federally, Medicaid does not require reimbursement for smoking cessation because it is a lifestyle decision, in the same category as hair replacement. Twenty-eight states reimburse for smoking cessation but 22 states do not, despite lawsuits, which have provided $200 billion, because smokers cannot quit on their won and long-term smoking is detrimental for health. The IRS does not allow medical expense deductions for smoking cessation because it is not a disease. The IRS is considering reversing the decision, yet there has been minimal effort to encourage the reversal. Reimbursement will increase quit attempts, make physicians more proactive.

That brings us back to the Glaxo's business partners at the Irish Cancer Society, who have been handing out free nicotine products and are campaigning for the Irish government to do likewise:

HSE urged to adopt quit smoking programme tested by Irish Cancer Society

The society, in partnership with several other organisations including National Women's Council of Ireland and the HSE, ran a 12 week group support programme in two parts of Dublin which also saw free nicotine replacement therapies given out.

46% of those who took part in the programme gave up smoking. [Yeah, right - CJS]

In a statement, the Irish Cancer Society explains that, "‘We Can Quit’ provides smokers with group and one-to-one support from trained community facilitators as well as access to free nicotine replacement therapies (NRT), through the local pharmacy."

The article includes an audio clip of Kathleen O'Meara saying:

"We want the minister to see it, obviously. We want him to say to the HSE 'take it on'. It's not an expensive programme but unless we do something like this the smoking rate will stay high in these communities... We believe it's urgent. We believe it's important."

So she wants e-cigarettes to be heavily regulated, but wants nicotine drugs to be paid for by the taxpayer. She wants exactly what Big Pharma wants, in fact. I suspect that if the boot was on the other foot, she'd say there was a massive conflict of interest here, don't you?

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