Nowadays, the topic of vaping is a widely disputed one. Vaping has become one of the easiest and newest alternatives for people that are trying to quit smoking. As we are all aware, smoking has tremendous health risks tied to it, ranging from lung disease to high blood pressure. With more and more smokers starting to become aware of the health risks linked to this activity, many are trying to find alternatives to help them let go of this habit. Most of them decide to opt for vaping. However, a large number of medical research articles and medical research associations are starting to come out with studies which show that vaping impacts our health in a negative way.
This does pose a crucial question:
Is vaping really dangerous? And if it is, is it really dangerous for us or for those that are threatened by its rising popularity on the market?
Today the topic of vaping will be investigated at length, and some of the elements that will be mentioned and discussed are going to be the link between Big Tobacco companies and Big Pharma, how this relationship influences public opinion and the consensus through the manipulation of research, organizations and even legislation. Therefore, the war on vaping starts to take more of a green hue, where the power struggle between two opposing sides is widely mirrored in the ways in which one tries to maintain its superiority by using money as a way to buy opinions and science in order to support their claims. Please be aware that this is purely an informative article meant to showcase some of the documented cases where a conflict of interest has been uncovered.
Before we get started uncovering some of the facts linking Big Pharma and the anti-vaping campaign, some of you might be asking yourselves what makes vaping such a good alternative to help you slowly ease off smoking altogether when compared to more common methods such as nicotine patches, nicotine gum, inhalers and other widely available over the counter products meant to help you quit. First of all, from a statistic perspective, these over the counter products have a tiny success margin. So small in fact that they seem not to have more benefits for the individual when compared to quitting cold turkey or trying to slowly cut down on the number of cigarettes smoked until quitting completely.
For some smokers, the problems might lie less with this “nicotine addiction” and more with trying to combat a force of habit, the habit of taking a cigarette out and smoking in various settings of their daily lives. With vaping, they are offered a safe alternative that allows them to keep that habit with none of the health problems associated with cigarettes. Therefore, they are able to kick things at their own pace, deal with their habit and stop it at the level that they feel comfortable doing it. Also, from another statistic perspective, vapers have a much smaller chance of going back to regular cigarettes compared to those that use over the counter nicotine medications.
The link between the tobacco industry and the pharmaceutical one can be difficult to pinpoint, and it may seem even a bit far fetched for some individuals to understand as these two exist on opposites sides of the health spectrum. However, the middle ground between the two and, quite frankly, the root of the problem, are NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) products. These products include but are not limited to nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine inhalers and more. The role of these products is to provide an alternative for smokers that are looking to quit.
The problem here stems from the fact that the manufacturers that create the chemicals needed for NRT are also contracted by big tobacco companies in order to acquire ingredients, chemicals, and filters needed to create cigarettes. With the chain of supply and demand leaning this heavily in favor of the big tobacco companies, they have power over this whole situation. In order to explain this adequately, an example must be provided. Novartis was one of the distributors for Phillip Morris, one of the largest industrial multinational cigarette manufacturing companies in the 90s’.
When Novartis came out with a nicotine patch product Phillip Morris decided to reach out to the company and offer them funding. However, in exchange Novartis had to remove all of its anti-smoking advertisements on their nicotine patch products, you can read more about it here. Therefore, a big tobacco company was able to influence a pharmaceutical company in order to sway how they market their products, eliminating the advertisements that were against the product that they manufactured.
This is not a singular event. Most tobacco companies tend to threaten that they will stop buying the products that they need from the suppliers that also produce NRT products, all in order to have the most amount of power in this relationship. What this does is assure these tobacco giants that they have some pull, or some say in the matter from the first stages. So, if you are a smoker trying to quit and you decide to opt for NRT patches, you won’t see any clear warnings against the dangers of smoking. Therefore, the effect that it will have on you is that if you have a choice: a choice to use the NRT product or a choice to go back to regular cigarettes.
In this section of the article, the issue that will be tackled is that of how Big Pharma is looking to combat vaping by influencing the field of scientific research and research organization groups. Since vaping is a disruptive technology for big pharmaceutical companies, the only way to discredit it and still make it seem like it was natural and based on a series of facts is to make use of scientific research studies.
So, how does this happen? Well, the main issue here is funding. Universities that have research groups led by scientist and even the government lack the funds needed in order to support new research claims that address possible issues. Who has that kind of money? Multinational Big Pharma manufacturers, of course. This is why some of these manufacturers decide to offer grants to various universities in order to support their scientific research studies. What is the catch? While this may seem like an honest, innocent way to attribute funds in order to support science and scientific facts, some of the fine lines of these exchanges revolve around the fact that these studies have to show the adverse effects of e-cigarettes and how they affect individuals that try to quit, compared to the effects of NRT products. In a nutshell, this transaction is a powerless exchange of funds for biased research, and the universities are powerless to refuse this.
One such example that exemplifies this type of power dynamics between universities and Big Pharma companies is the one between UCSF and Johnson&Johnson. Johnson&Johnson offered two large grants to the university to be used for research into the effects of smoking and over the counter options for those who want to quit smoking. One year later, one study, which you can read here, came from UCSF which claimed that e-cigarettes do not help smokers quit at all and one year after that another study was released, claiming that young individuals who start smoking by using alternative smoking products (i.e., e-cigarettes) have a much higher rate of moving to traditional cigarettes after one year, shown here. The underlined idea here? If you can’t strike down your opponent through conventional means, look towards funding and influencing scientific studies in order to get the result that you are looking for and still hold power in this economic environment.
Moving on from the previous argument, if Big Pharma can influence the outcomes of studies and the fields that they should be focused on, is that enough to offer legitimacy to these studies and make them understood and acknowledged by the public? The margin for that to happen is very slim, which is why the pharmaceutical companies interested in keeping up the sales for their NRT products and eliminating vaping cigarettes from the market have decided to find a new area of expertise that they can influence in their favor, that of funding health organizations or members from health organizations.
This process has been documented, and one of the most important cases is that of the TPSAC Committee. TPSAC or the Tobacco Products Scientific Committee is part of the FDA and, as the name suggests, it is in charge of providing critical analysis into tobacco products that are available on the market, how effective they are and if they are safe for consumers. Four members from TPSAC were investigated and found to have received funds which ultimately means that there was a conflict of interest for these parties. You can read the Judges ruling here.
The problem surfaced when these individuals were part of two major research studies, one that decided that second-hand smoke skills and the other which stated that nicotine addiction is a legitimate addiction. The effects of these two studies are purely psychological, and now due to their popularity in the media, they are known to be fact. However, more recent studies have challenged and debunked these two ideas, proving that they were not indeed a reality. The problem, however, is that these studies do not get the screen time that they deserve which means that most smokers and non-smokers still think that.
Why say that nicotine is addictive?
By making someone believe that they are an addict you enable them to look for products that can give them relief for their addiction, in this particular case all of the NRT products that can be easily acquired. A smoker trying to quick is more likely to opt for a nicotine patch or nicotine gum because he or she is left with the idea that they are addicted and this way they can replace the addiction source (from cigarettes to patches) and go through this detox like process. The problem, however, is that there is no actual scientific fact to back this behavior and the only ones winning are the pharmaceutical companies that provide these products.
Last but not least, the most substantial impact that Big Pharma can have on its consumers is by manipulating legislation in their favor. This is not to say that anti-smoking laws or smoking bans were not passed in almost every country around the world but what we are starting to see more recently is the fact that there is a constant pressure to push anti-vaping laws in a magnitude of spaces. Some may wonder who or what is behind this push for reform when it comes to vaping which is precisely what is going to be tackled in this final part of the article.
The first and easiest way for Big Pharma companies to sway public policies is through campaign donations. These campaign donations are meant to support various candidates during elections, and after they are elected, they are then required to help push forward anti-vaping laws. However, the problem with this is those campaign donations are very easy to track and lead back to the pharmaceutical companies which is why others decide to fund public organizations which have the same legislation goals. Most of the times these processes are not as successful as big Pharma’s influence in science or health organizations but, as with the case of Boston, they can help push laws to be enacted which ban the use of e-cigarettes in workplaces.
In the end, the only industry hurt by vaping is Big Pharma and big tobacco companies. These two then create this vicious cycle where money seems to dictate law, science and public opinion. By being aware of these practices, we can help form our own views on this matter which is practices that lead to controversies and conflict of interests, especially when it comes to public health, need to be exposed and analyzed for the better of the community.