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The smear factor

A couple of weeks ago I was in Brussels attending the annual Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF).

I've been meaning to write about it but I've been too busy. I still am but I'll try and post something tomorrow if not before.

In the meantime The Times has today devoted an entire page to a 'story' in which Cancer Research UK has "condemned scientists who accepted tens of thousands of pounds from tobacco companies to carry out research into e-cigarettes".

Under the pejorative heading 'Academics making a packet' The Times names four people – Karl Fagerstrom, Riccardo Polosa, Clive Bates and David Sweanor – whose speaking roles at GTNF 2016 are highlighted in the main report.

The implication is clear, although only Polosa is credited directly with receiving money from a tobacco company, "a $316,060 grant from Philip Morris in 2003-05 for research on nicotine addiction".

Instead you have to scroll down to the bottom of the report (paragraph 16 of 18) to read:

There is no suggestion that the academics acted improperly and they all declared competition interests as appropriate.

Nevertheless there's a sting in the tale because the report concludes:

Nearly 80,000 people a year die of smoking-related illness and smoking costs the NHS £2 billion a year. Cancer Research UK has a "blanket ban" on working with researchers who receive money from tobacco companies.

"The tobacco industry has a long history of producing misleading research," [George] Butterworth [campaign manager at CRUK] said. "We would be very worried about trusting any research produced by someone associated with these companies."

To criticise Big Tobacco for funding studies on vaping is not just laughable, it's mind-blowingly obtuse because it ignores the very important role the tobacco companies can play in future harm reduction products – from research and development to marketing and distribution.

Likewise, to censure the handful of public health campaigners who are trying to work with the companies is pathetic.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm not Clive Bates' biggest fan. In fact I'm not a huge fan of any anti-tobacco campaigner because however much they bang on about choice I've never met a single one who genuinely believes in the right to smoke without undue harassment.

Everything they endorse (including smoking bans and other anti-smoking measures) is with a view to coercing smokers to quit combustible cigarettes or denormalising their habit.

Nevertheless I respect the likes of Bates, Sweanor et al for at least being willing to engage with the companies - unlike many of their colleagues in public health - and I hope they will respond to this mean-spirited attack.

The fact is this is yet another example of a section of the anti-tobacco industry trying to corner the market when it comes to altruism and harm reduction.

They really don't like it when others park on what they wrongly perceive to be 'their' territory.

I genuinely don't know where CRUK gets all its money from but the first question that must be asked is, "Do you receive funding from the pharmaceutical industry?"

Meanwhile The Times has also resorted to type with a highly sanctimonious dig at GTNF itself. Under the headline 'Scientists wooed in charm offensive', health correspondent Katie Gibbons writes:

Clouds of cigarette smoke enveloped the red-carpet enhance of Hotel Metropole in Brussels as delegates at the fifth annual Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum stepped out for their first break. There wasn't an e-cigarette in sight.

Well, Katie, I was there and I stepped on that carpet several times each day and I was never "enveloped" in "clouds of cigarette smoke".

As for the dig about e-cigarettes, did it occur to her that anyone who wanted to vape was probably inside the hotel where they were allowed to use e-cigarettes?

In fact, with Belgium still being relatively liberal on the issue of smoking (and this being a private event), there were two public rooms within the hotel where you could also light up.

One was the bar just by the main entrance. The second was the Rubinstein room that became, for the duration of the conference, The Liberty Lounge sponsored (I'm proud to say) by Forest.

Gibbons didn't care much for that either:

Delegates were treated [my emphasis] to a "liberty lounge" where they could puff away without interruption ....

Quick, nurse, pass the smelling salts!

But wait for this:

The organiser [of GTNF] was Tobacco Reporter, an industry-funded trade publication that features articles such as "the upside of nicotine" and "non-smokers also get lung cancer".

You can almost hear Gibbons' disdainful sniff as she is forced to write that. How dare they say "non-smokers also get lung cancer" – even if it's true.

Of course it wouldn't be The Times without a pompous leading article to accompany their 'exclusive' report and the good news is, they didn't disappoint.

Below the headline 'Smoke in their eyes – tobacco companies should not be funding public health researchers', the paper huffed:

Smoking remains the largest cause of preventable death in Britain. E-cigarettes provide the best hope of preventing them. Academics who demonstrate the benefits are doing important work. Attending jollies on the tobacconists' dime, however, need not and should not be part of it.

The remarkable thing is, GTNF 2016 was completely open and transparent, with journalists invited to attend each and every session.

Compare that to the forthcoming Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (aka COP7) that takes place in Delhi in November.

Will The Times expose that racket? Don't hold your breath.

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Reader Comments (6)

Scandalous but thanks to the work of the likes of Clive Bates, when he was a public health puppet, this is the state of play today therefore he cannot blame anyone but himself for the ease in which anyone with any kind of opposing view is smeared.

Reap what you sow, and all that.

What is most disturbing about this is that someone is employed as a journalist and cannot believe that anyone but smokers get cancer.

Maybe they should ask Robert Peston whose non smoker wife died of lung cancer having never smoked a cigarette.

As informed, as opposed to stupid, ignorant and ill-informed journos like Gibbons, Peston rightly reports : "...However experts have also said to me that they have historically over-estimated the link between smoking and lung cancer."

He also makes the very valid point that bigots like Gibbons and their prejudice against smokers is unjustly killing non smokers too.

The Times and Gibbons should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Sorry, you probably won't agree. Bates deserves all he gets as one who helped to lay the template.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 16:02 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

That BBC article states that 80% of lung cancers (median diagnostic age 72) are in smokers. Ok, I would expect that in that demographic, some 40-50% to be smokers/ex smokers.

If we also remember that smoking-lung cancer link is purely statistical, this kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 17:12 | Unregistered CommenterAna

There are many other inconsistencies of the smoking causes lung cancer dogma (biggest for me: 1. lung cancer can't be produced in lab animals through smoking, despite 50 years of trying 2. while lung cancer was skyrocketing, rates for oral, laryngeal, tracheal cancer remained static). Anyone wishing to see how weak the anti-smoking case is should google 'McTear case'.

To remain on the topic of this article, smearing - what the medical establishment has been doing in the smoking issue for the past 40-50 years - is not new. Just look at what they did to Semmelweis in the 19th century.

It's truly baffling to me when I really think about it - in this day and age of internet and smartphones, the medical community although has made many advances, has also reverted back to a modified 'miasma theory' to explain diseases - smoking, particularly passive smoking.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 18:19 | Unregistered CommenterAna

The link between lung cancer and smoking as Ana rightfully notes is tenuous. Not only are associations with cancer inconsistent, lung cancer and virtually all the other so-called smoking-related diseases are rising as smoking rates descend.

If the links were as solid as alleged, why thew mass campaign to suppress any and all contrary indications and dissent?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 22:24 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Dear Mr Clark

" There wasn’t an e-cigarette in sight."

Strange that the photograph accompanying the article is of a young lady using an e-cigarette.

Odd that.

I guess The Times is no longer the newspaper of record.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 22:56 | Unregistered CommenterDP

Stock photograph - used because the full-page article was primarily about vaping.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 23:13 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

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