February 4, 2013

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

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.



A further note in regard to R Street Institute... and also in regard to the tobacco industry's harm reduction campaign that it is funding...
R Street Institute features as an "Associate Fellow" Brad Rodu, who is the endowed chair for Tobacco Harm Reduction Research and Univ of Louisville. 
By the way, Rodu's endowed chair at University of Louisville exists due to a multi-million dollar investment of funding by the tobacco industry.  US Smokeless Tobacco Company [hello, Philip Morris subsidiary!] and Swedish Match ponied up more than $3 million for the purpose of creating Rodu's endowed chair in 2005 and paying to support the ensuing harm reduction research.
One can find more details on the University of Louisville website, among other sources. 
Check it out:
<em;<strong;Endowed Chair in Tobacco Harm Reduction Research</strong;</em;
<em;<strong;School of Medicine</strong;</em;
<em;<strong;Established April 2005</strong;</em;
<em;<strong;The endowed chair and research funds were created by the James Graham Brown Cancer Center using more than $3 million in unrestricted gifts by U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company and Swedish Match North America, Inc. to the University of Louisville. The sponsors have no influence over the chair holder’s research. The funds and the chair are part of the “Finding Answers to Cancer” campaign.</strong;</em;
<em;<strong;This commitment has been matched in part by the state’s Research Challenge Trust Fund.</strong;</em;
( https://louisville.edu/bucksforbrains/descriptions/tobaccoharmreduction/ )
From what I can tell -- it seems that a large majority of what we know as tobacco harm reduction in the US -- at least in recent years -- is a product of a sustained tobacco industry campaign to create a "community" by spending big to create research to populate scientific literature, to promote and fund its chosen thought leader s, to utilize PR, media relations and public affairs assets put the created research and related messaging into a corporate echo chamber of its friends, allies, surrogates and shills in order to sell the message to policymakers, opinion leaders and the public that people don't really need to quit tobacco -- in fact, they say, tobacco is the solution!
I think Stan and others are very on point in urging folks to connect the dots to make clear -- as clear as is possible -- that the tobacco industry is clearly running a harm reduction PR/public affairs campaign.&nbsp;
Again, with Rodu, for example, when he did his session in July of 2012 at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council called "Can Tobacco Cure Smoking," it may not be obvious the tobacco industry's tentacles within ALEC's private enterprise board [which count as members current and former tobacco lobbyists] that could grease the wheels to get this session to be part of the ALEC's agenda [see this article for lots more detail on that topic: [ www.prwatch.org/news/2012/07/11671/tobacco-can-cure-smoking-and-other-hi... ].&nbsp; Or then when ALEC teams up with Heartland Institute [oh, where Rodu is a "Senior Fellow" by the way], as reported last month in the Sydney Morning Herald, and organizes a 2-day conference called "Can Tobacco Make You Healthier" [
http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/abbotts-man-under-fire-over... title="www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/abbotts-man-under-fire-over-extrem...... ] -- it may not be intuitively obvious to most casual of observers of how the tobacco industry is involved in this via tobacco lobbyists, tobacco funding or other means.
So, this of course doesn't mean that everyone who supports tobacco harm reduction is funded by Big Tobacco.&nbsp; But that doesn't at all reduce the importance of understanding clearly that it appears that many aspects of the tobacco harm reduction universe seem to be moving parts in the tobacco industry's ongoing campaign to promote it's newest reasons for not quitting tobacco.
Best regards as always,
Tim Filler

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