- FAMRI Center
The problem of undisclosed financial connections to tobacco in the harm reduction discussion
Many people have responded to my posting of Ruth Malone’s letter on the FDA’s decision to have a “facilitated dialog” between public health and the tobacco industry. I have also received several direct emails on the subject of harm reduction in general, including one from Joel Nitzkin, a vigorous proponent of “reduced risk” tobacco products, with a request that I post it.
In response, I asked the following question: “I have been told that the Heritage Foundation (or other similar group(s)) have been supporting Joel's work. Is that correct? If so, that fact should probably be disclosed.” The Heritage Foundation has a long history of being part of the tobacco companies’ network of quietly funded “third parties” the industry uses to support its position.
In response, Dr. Nitzkin responded:
“I receive limited travel and other support from the R Street Institute. This is a libertarian think tank, independent of government, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries that is committed to what they refer to as “real solutions” based on “free markets.” They have taken on tobacco harm reduction as an issue based on their perception that FDA actions to date relative e‐cigarettes, smokeless tobacco warnings and the excessive burdens of proof to be imposed on the lower risk tobacco products represent undo governmental interference with market forces not justified to protect the health of the public. They are engaged in this issue based on the perception of their board that this is the right thing to do. They are not, in any way, a front group or spokespersons for any tobacco industry stakeholder, or the tobacco industry as a group. They have, from time to time, received small donations from tobacco companies, but none of those dollars have been or will be used to support me. Most of their revenue is from property and liability insurance companies. They have no say and do not review or approve any of my verbal or written statements. Their decisions are made and priorities set by the Executive Director, with guidance from their Board – that has no tobacco or pharmaceutical representation.”
I then pressed Dr. Nitzkin to provide the details of the “small donations” and he responded, “They do accept money from anyone that wishes to donate to them. That being said, Their decision and priority process, as best I can tell, is not driven, even to the slightest degree, by tobacco interests or any other individual donor group.”
This is exactly the kind of language that has been used over and over and over again by individuals and organizations who are later documented as acting as third parties for the tobacco companies. These denials are simply not credible to me.
This history further reinforces the problems with the way that the FDA is approaching the tobacco industry, who are well practiced at manipulating third parties.
You can read the full email exchange here.