Claiming an ethical basis for their activities they give the following on their involvement in smoking:
It is sometimes claimed that pharmaceutical companies exercise undue influence on governments and pursue commercial objectives without taking into consideration society's interests. We consider it our responsibility to provide decision-makers in government with the objective and fact-based information needed to formulate sound health policies.
Our lobbying and advocacy efforts focus on increasing access to the best medicines and to health information globally, while preserving incentives for research and innovation through competitive pricing. In addition, we believe that it is in the interest of companies striving for a leadership role in corporate citizenship to campaign for policies and regulations which favor ethical business conduct. [emphasis added]
An example of how Novartis is contributing proactively to the health policy and disease prevention debate in Europe is the question of smoking cessation. Tobacco is the single largest cause of avoidable death in the EU and over half a million people die each year in Europe as a direct or indirect result of smoking. It is estimated that 25% of all cancer deaths and 15% of all deaths in the EU could be attributed to smoking.
Until recently, efforts by European regulators to reduce smoking were concentrated mainly on the introduction of 'smoke free' legislation which prohibits smoking in certain environments. Novartis believes that greater public health benefits could be achieved through a policy of smoking cessation, coupled with increased duty on tobacco.
Novartis is campaigning to encourage policies to complement non-smoking environments with smoking cessation, with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as an important component of an EU strategy on tobacco control.
Together with various NGOs, we helped to foster a 'Smoke Free Partnership.' Our aim is to foster a policy and legislative environment which leads to better public health through strong tobacco control measures and increased availability of NRT in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.It clearly acknowledges lobbying for conditions that favour its commercial objectives, namely NRT sales. Perhaps these well-meaning souls actually believe what they are saying, which is effectively that they are whiter than white, use only the best peer-reviewed evidence, care very much about citizens' health (and, of course only incidentally, can make a comfortable living into the bargain).
It is a favourite trick of the tobacco control industry to portray tobacco as 'big business' that is ruthlessly exploiting the little guy. But this company, and the entire pharmaceutical sector, is even bigger business. Somehow tobacco is unduly tarnished on the grounds that it is a big business, even though its rivals in the nicotine market are favoured and allowed to contribute to public policy. They have the ear of government, and can also engage in this kind of activity with the intelligentsia.
One result is that a whole lot of well meaning people with benevolent intentions can reduce people's capacity to make their own, usually faulty, choices about food, drink or smoking. The angle that is not acknowledged is the money that is made in the process. Not only does this benefit large corporations financially at the expense of smaller communities, but it also empowers them at the expense of these communities (probably on many issues beyond the lifestyle ones usually addressed here). Thanks to lobbying of this kind, we have the smoking ban and further restrictions, which have damaged pubs and recreational environments and will go on to damage shops. The whole fabric of economic society is at the mercy of those at the top.
I hesitate to call this kind of thing fascism (the collusion of corporations with the state?). But I still don't like it, because it looks to me as if the rightness of it is taken for granted by the whiter-than-white who engage in making decisions on behalf of everyone else, without apparently caring about the economic ramifications for the wider public – and failing to acknowledge their own dependence on the wider public for their survival.