Is Big Tobacco Turning Over a New Leaf?

Vaper’s Vortex

June 29, 2015

“In this context, being “pro-tobacco” is perfectly consistent with advancing public health.”


The Big Tobacco We Know

Big Tobacco has a very long history of lying. To everyone. Smokers. The public at large. Even Congress. Practices which eventually led to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).

The MSA mandates that tobacco manufacturers make payments, in perpetuity, to 46 states that participated in the agreement. Payments totaling $206 billion in the first twenty-five years. It is the largest civil litigation settlement in U.S. history.

Times Change

A recent Reuters article details efforts of Big Tobacco to develop safer e-cigarettes. In a somewhat bizarre twist, the biggest tobacco manufacturers are hiring research scientists who have dedicated their careers to developing treatments for diseases, including many types of cancer, which are the direct result of Big Tobacco’s products.

Philip Morris International (PMI) has added more than 400 scientists and technical staff to their Switzerland facility. All part of their investment of more than $2 billion aimed at developing and testing reduced risk products.

These companies are exploring alternative and ostensibly safer “nicotine products”. E-cigarettes are continually evolving and BT is positioning themselves to be a major force in that evolution.

Big Tobacco says they are trying to improve public health. That’s tough for consumers to swallow. We are talking about an industry that has, for decades, made hundreds of billions of dollars producing products that kill half of their users.

Modified Risk Tobacco Products

It has been reported that PMI plans to file an MRTP application in 2016. The challenge of convincing consumers of their good intentions will be nothing compared to the hurdle of trying to get FDA approval for an MRTP application. Just ask Swedish Match.

Swedish Match submitted an MRTP application to the FDA that consisted of more than 110,000 pages. The message was pretty straight forward – after more than 20 years of snus being the tobacco product of choice among Swedish men, Sweden has the lowest rate of tobacco related disease in the EU, the lowest rate of oral cancer in the EU, and the lowest rate of lung cancer among males – in the world.

Thousands of pages of information. Decades of research. Tens of thousands of users. Indisputable reductions in tobacco related diseases.

And the FDA’s verdict? More than a year after receiving the proposal, FDA denied the application. FDA has never approved an MRTP application.

The Trust Issue

Can we trust Big Tobacco? Certainly the FDA and virtually every other health organization would answer with a resounding “No”. And yet…

At the third FDA sponsored workshop on e-cigarettes earlier this month, presentations were made by RAI Services Co. (a division of RJ Reynolds), Altria Client Services and Imperial Tobacco. Regardless of the assumed bias, all three presentations were professional (two of the three presenters were research scientists with PhD’s), informative, and backed by extensive and ongoing research studies.

In an April article published in Forbes titled “People Who Get Paid by Big Tobacco Should Be Able to Advise the FDA”, Sally Satel argues that the FDA’s former policy (subsequently changed as the result of a court order) of accepting members with ties to pharmaceutical interests, while excluding TPSAC committee members with any connections to tobacco interests, is “indefensible”.

“I think it derives from the misbegotten conceit that anyone who accepts funding from tobacco sponsors is somehow pro-smoking. In reality, most researchers who accept grants from tobacco interests are working just as hard to reduce smoking. It’s just that their topic of study is smokeless tobacco (and, I hope soon, e-cigarettes whose nicotine comes from tobacco) as a route to smoking cessation. In this context, being “pro-tobacco” is perfectly consistent with advancing public health.”

Whether one agrees with Satel or not, biased science is not limited to the work of Big Tobacco. Big Pharma, CDC, ACS, AHLA, Departments of Health, UC San Francisco – all have embraced bias with open arms.

It is becoming increasingly evident that public health’s overly zealous, ideologically based propaganda is getting old. Big Tobacco has a lot of company when it comes to lack of trust.

Big Tobacco Turning Over a New Leaf

Like it or not, one thing is clear. Big Tobacco has the motivation, the commitment, the scientists, the facilities, and the financial resources to make substantial contributions to the discussion of safer nicotine products including e-cigarettes. Big Tobacco is looking to add Big Vape to their resume. They are in it for the long haul. They say they are in it in the interest of safer products. In the interest of public health. Their actions suggest they are turning over a new leaf. Can they be trusted?

Perhaps Ronald Reagan said it best…

“Trust. But verify.”


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Dave Coggin has a Master’s Degree in business and spent 35 years in corporate America. He is a co-founder and partner in DIYELS. He has spent the last five years actively researching and following the evolution of the e-cigarette industry. He is a strong proponent of e-cigarettes as the most promising option currently known for tobacco harm reduction. He may be contacted directly at dave@diyels.com .

The opinions presented here are exclusively those of the author. Vaper’s Vortex is offered as a service to our customers and followers. Anyone considering e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes should seek qualified advice from a medical professional.

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