British Thoracic Society Condemns Marlboro Maker's Takeover of UK Inhaler Company

Dawn O'Shea

September 27, 2021

Following the takeover of the inhaler development company Vectura by the world's largest tobacco company, the British Thoracic Society (BTS) has issued a statement warning that BTS membership will not be open to those who have any paid involvement with the tobacco industry.

Over the last 20 years, Vectura has been instrumental in the development of 13 inhaled medicines through its device technology and expertise. It is the second dry powder inhaler firm to be acquired by the Marlboro giant Philip Morris International (PMI) in recent months, after acquisition of the American inhaled drug specialist OtiTopic in August. PMI has also acquired Fertin Pharma, the world's largest manufacturer of nicotine chewing gum.

The BTS said it is disappointed and concerned at the takeover of Vectura by PMI, and said the move is inappropriate, unethical and should have been prevented.

The society has issued a statement cautioning that BTS membership is not open to those who have, or have had, paid involvement with tobacco industry at any point in the previous 10 years.

Furthermore, publication of papers funded wholly or in part by the tobacco industry in BTS journals, Thorax and BMJ Open Respiratory Research, is prohibited.

When the acquisition process is complete, companies and individuals with a relationship with Vectura will fall within the above policies.

The BTS said it will now "review the implications of what this disappointing outcome means for those that now find themselves, either directly or indirectly, connected to the tobacco industry and will provide a further statement in the near future".

Professor Jonathan Bennett, chair of the BTS, is one of 35 representatives of professional and public health organisations who have signed a letter sent to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care Jo Churchill MP expressing concerns regarding the acquisition. Among the other signatories are representatives from Asthma UK & the British Lung Foundation, the Royal Society for Public Health, the Royal College of Physicians, the American Thoracic Society and the European Lung Foundation.

"The tobacco industry has an extremely poor reputation and PMI in particular has been accused of running marketing campaigns that target children and was taken to court for complicity with tobacco smuggling to boost its own profits, leading to a $1.25 billion settlement with the EU. There is evidence that it continues to fail to control its supply chain with many of its cigarettes ending up in the illegal market," the letter states.

It goes on to say that "PMI and other tobacco companies have a long history of subverting tobacco control policies for their own financial gain, and of research manipulation, and concerns have been raised that such conduct may be ongoing with irregularities reported in their recent clinical studies. For these reasons, we have strongly opposed the takeover from the beginning.

"We think it clear that this deal is not in the public interest and that it creates perverse incentives for PMI to increase harm through smoking so they might then profit again through treating smoking related diseases," the letter states.

The letter also raises questions about the role of the Competition and Markets Authority in cases like this.

"While the Competition and Markets Authority typically considers monopolies within a product market, they have not in this instance considered monopolies of harm – we think this is a clear deficit in need of attention," the correspondence states.

In a statement, PMI said: "The idea that PMI would deliberately increase cigarette sales in order to profit from smoking related diseases is false and without merit - on the contrary, PMI is accelerating its journey to become a majority smoke-free business by 2025. Despite what our critics say, we've been extremely clear in our stated objective to accelerate our entry into 'beyond nicotine' products by evolving our current expertise, for example in inhalation technology, where Vectura is an industry leader.

"PMI has acquired Vectura for its complementary capabilities and intends to increase the total level of expenditure on research and development at Vectura, speeding up innovations that will make treatment more effective and affordable for patients.

"Those in public health who want to end smoking should resist pressure to exclude scientists and welcome PMI's acquisition of Vectura and its transition away from cigarettes."

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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