Smoke and vapours: RACGP warns of Big Tobacco research drive

Matt Woodley

7/02/2023 5:14:17 PM

A recent investigation revealed the world’s largest tobacco company has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into vaping research.

Person vaping whose head is covered by vapour
Philip Morris International contributed nearly $240 million to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World between 2019 and 2021.

The RACGP has issued a warning about Big Tobacco’s influence over smoking harm research and vaping, after a recent investigation highlighted Philip Morris International’s (PMI) connection to a global foundation which has a stated aim to ‘end smoking in this generation’.
According to financial disclosures, the world’s largest tobacco company contributed US$166.2 million ($239.2 m) to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW) between 2019 and 2021, with only US$1.24 million ($1.79 m) of the foundation’s revenue over this period coming from other sources.
The report goes on to state that FSFW has consequently financed more than 70 academic papers on topics including e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and rates of smoking cessation since it launched in 2017.
RACGP President Nicole Higgins, who has previously called for a crackdown on nicotine vaping products, said she is not surprised to see the nicotine giant funding research.
‘The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World is nothing more than a fig leaf for Philip Morris’ real business – nicotine addiction,’ she said.
‘A smoke-free world is a fine ambition, but this is just cynical. The research funded by Philip Morris through the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World shows smoking has many harmful effects – but we have known this for decades.
‘Researchers should be careful about accepting funding from the foundation, lest their work become a smokescreen for Philip Morris’ pivot to vaping products.’
Dr Higgins went on to say that if FSFW is not conducting research in to whether vaping in and of itself is safe, as opposed just being safer than smoking, then it is not meeting its values of integrity or transparency.
‘Helping people live without nicotine should be the priority for any research by any organisation or funder,’ she said.
‘The RACGP supports nicotine vaping under the supervision and prescription of a GP who can help a patient beat their dependence, saving them money, reducing harm, and supporting them to take back control from nicotine.
‘But Big Nicotine doesn’t want users to have that power. The industry is already lobbying for unrestricted sale of vaping products in Australia, and research by this foundation is almost certainly a key part of that lobbying.’
Multiple Australian research bodies including the CSIRO and Australian Research Council have since indicated they would not accept research funded by FSFW or linked to tobacco companies.
‘CSIRO does not conduct research for, or accept funding from, tobacco companies or foundations sponsored by them,’ a spokesperson told The Australian.
Long-time anti-smoking campaigner Professor Mike Daube told the same publication that FSFW’s research funding is a cynical way to mislead the scientific community.
‘It’s just amazing that close to 75 years after we learned that smoking is lethal, companies like Philip Morris are still trying to con the community into thinking that they care about health,’ he said.
‘Funding of this kind hits multiple targets for Philip Morris and the tobacco industry. They set [and distort] the research agenda. They seek to create conflicts in the scientific arena. Their funded researchers participate in widely publicised conferences.
‘Research funded through the FSFW is presented and published without any reference to the Philip Morris funding.’
Meanwhile, Dr Higgins warns that ‘opening the door to Big Nicotine’ will lead to a new generation of young vapers, many of whom have never smoked cigarettes.
‘But that’s the marketing strategy, isn’t it?’ she said.
‘Phillip Morris and other cigarette companies fought Australia’s efforts to kick smoking at every stage, using every piece of research that was convenient to them.
‘This is just a continuation of Big Nicotine’s fight against public health.’
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