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Publishing ban for researchers at tobacco industry-owned firms – Nature

A group of international respiratory societies has banned researchers associated with tobacco companies from publishing papers in their journals after the acquisition of a health-care firm that makes inhalers by a tobacco giant, writes Dalmeet Singh Chawla for Nature.

Last year, the Swiss American tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI), which owns some of the world’s popular cigarette brands, took over United Kingdom-based pharmaceutical firm Vectura, says the 28 January 2022 Nature article, which continues:

In response, six health bodies, including the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the European Respiratory Society and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, have issued a joint statement describing the move as “highly unethical and inappropriate”. See the full statement below.

“We oppose the use of lung health care technology for addictive and harmful tobacco and nicotine products,” the statement says. It adds that employees of companies owned by the tobacco industry will not be allowed to publish in the societies’ journals or present at meetings, and recommends that patients do not use products newly developed by such firms.

Extended ban

The Nature story reports further: Respiratory societies worldwide have banned researchers directly funded by tobacco companies for more than a decade, says Gregory Downey, a pulmonologist at the University of Colorado Denver and president-elect of the ATS. Now, the organisations have extended that ban to researchers working for firms acquired by tobacco companies.

Scientists at Vectura, which is based in Chippenham in the UK, have spent years producing drugs that treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including some smoking-related respiratory illnesses, Downey notes. “That is the ultimate conflict of interest.”

He adds that he and his colleagues have opposed PMI’s acquisition of Vectura since the news became public. “The issue is that ‘Big Tobacco’ could use, and will use, this technology not only to potentially enhance delivery of tobacco-containing substances and nicotine devices, but to addict more people.”

According to the Nature story, Moira Gilchrist, vice-president of strategic and scientific communications at PMI in Lausanne, Switzerland, says the idea that the company would use Vectura’s technology in this way is “false and without basis”.

“We openly welcome and encourage legitimate critique and debate about our business transformation, but when this morphs into actively ostracising scientists and attempting to prevent the prescribing of proven medicines for patients, we should pause and think of the implications,” Gilchrist adds.

Downey responds that physicians must act in their patients’ best interests, Nature concludes. “We have never said – nor will we ever – that we would discourage our patients from using technologies or bone fide medications developed by a company owned by Big Tobacco.”


Joint statement on the implications of Philip Morris International’s acquisition of Vectura

Issued on 14 January 2022 by: the European Respiratory Society, the American Thoracic Society, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology, the Asociación Latino Americana De Tórax and the Global Initiative for Asthma.

As health care organisations focused on respiratory health, our missions demand that we actively address those actions which could contribute to an increase in lung disease and risk to individual and community health.

We collectively objected to and campaigned against the highly unethical and inappropriate takeover of an inhaled medicines company by a tobacco company. Despite our best efforts, we are terribly disappointed that shareholders, regulators, and the UK government allowed this acquisition to be approved.

This is just the latest example of tobacco companies diversifying into health care and we are very concerned about the implications for patients, scientists and doctors.

We are especially alarmed that technology currently used to deliver drugs to treat respiratory diseases may now be used to more efficiently deliver tobacco companies' harmful and addictive products that cause such diseases. This takeover is a dark episode for lung health and health in general and should not be repeated in the future.

Tobacco products remain the leading cause of preventable death and disease worldwide. The profits, practices and power of the tobacco industry remain the biggest barriers to change. Past scientific misconduct by the industry has sown justifiable mistrust on the part of respiratory researchers and clinicians.

Unified as a community, our organisations will continue to strenuously oppose future acquisitions of health care companies by the tobacco industry.

Thus, we give official notice that our organisations and members cannot condone new interactions and links with any company wholly owned by a tobacco company such as Phillip Morris International. This is in accordance with our rules, ethical codes, and the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (the UN Tobacco Control Treaty) guidance.


  • Employees of tobacco-owned companies will not be permitted to publish papers in our journals or present at future meetings.
  • No products of tobacco-owned companies will be promoted at future events, including educational and scientific meetings, and or at any conferences we cosponsor or endorse.
  • We oppose the use of lung health care technology for addictive and harmful tobacco and nicotine products.
  • We reiterate our refusal to engage in partnerships or accept financial support from tobacco companies.
  • We urge governments to enact legislation in accordance with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to protect public interest, and prevent this tobacco tactic from happening again.
  • Furthermore, we reaffirm the fundamental principle that physicians must act in the patients’ best interests, including prescribing the most effective medication for the patient’s health condition.
  • We recommend that, provided it is appropriate and safe, health care professionals and patients do not use products newly developed by companies owned by the tobacco industry.
  • Patients requesting to move away from current products of tobacco-owned companies should be given alternatives if appropriate and safe to do so, by their health care professionals.


Nature story – Tobacco publishing ban for researchers at industry-owned firms (Open access)


Joint statement on the implications of Philip Morris International’s acquisition of Vectura. As posted by the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (Open access)


See also from the MedicalBrief archives


Tobacco taxes reducing consumption rates, says WHO


Tobacco smoking control – Much research, little action


Use villainous ‘big tobacco’ for public good — Experts


Big Tobacco and the controversy over research and influencing policy



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