Tuesday, 2 August 2011
When is a tobacco company not a tobacco company?
The WHO, FCTC, EU, national governments and the anti-smoking lobby, as per article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, refuse to sit round the table with tobacco companies yet quite happily accept representation from Pharmaceutical Companies. The question that must be asked is "What is the difference when Big Tobacco and Big Pharma are working together?"
The company annual report for 2010 shows that Japan Tobacco International has an R&D section which has worked on producing drugs to combat osteoporosis and HIV and that licences have been agreed with Pharmaceutical Companies both inside and outside the USA. Companies include GlaxoSmithKlein, Roche, Merck, Torii, giving a global reach.
Clearly tobacco companies will not be chastised if they get involved in pharmaceuticals, because pharmaceuticals are an approved activity. (Nor will the pharmaceutical companies which collude with companies that are engaged in pharmaceutical research – even though the likes of Japan Tobacco is still involved mostly in tobacco.)
Article 5.3 seeks to 'protect health policy with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry'. This means in the ideal world of tobacco control, the tobacco companies don't get a look in, and despite their products being very highly taxed are expected to be listened to politely and dismissively without any hope of being able to influence the outcome in tobacco or health policy. The same applies to anyone who sells or distributes tobacco (those involved in tobacco vending machines are endangered and soon to be extinct).
So if the tobacco companies turn their attention to medicinal drugs will they be invited back to the table? because they won't have an axe to grind in the pharmaceutical area of their operations. To paraphrase the British Medical Journal, 'an obvious escape from this negativity is to quit the tobacco market'.
Personally I think it's highly questionable whether overloading the pharmaceutical market is necessarily beneficial to health, and in general I would prefer a business environment where investment decisions were not guided by government-sponsored vilification/denormalisation/negativity campaigns ... whatever you choose to call them (and Simon Chapman and Becky Freeman, writing in the British Medical Journal, couldn't have described the process better if they were trying to slander themselves).