What have the tobacco and pharma industries got in common?
The tragicomic potential of this scenario makes it sound like a scriptwriter’s dream.
There’s the pharma marketing exec pondering how to maximise the market for the company’s smoking cessation products. And then there’s the tobacco chief strategising a “mutually beneficial” alliance with a company that profits from helping smokers to quit.
Now for the reality…
Marita Hefler, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney and News Editor for the BMJ journal Tobacco Control, has been investigating recent revelations of an alliance of interests between the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries.
Joining the dots between big pharma, the tobacco industry and opposition to plain packaging
Marita Hefler writes:
A recent report by medical journalist Michael Woodhead in the health practitioner newsletter 6 minutes exposed how the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries are active members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a powerful right-wing lobby group which opposes Australia’s introduction of cigarette plain packaging.
In the US, ALEC works closely with legislators to advance the interests of its corporate members and ensure laws favourable to America’s biggest corporations. Its members consist of legislators and the private sector, although 98% of its funding is from corporations, trade associations and corporate foundations.
Members of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board which provides input to ‘model legislation’ include representatives of Altria (think Marlboro) and Reynolds American (Camel cigarettes), together with pharmaceutical companies Pfizer Inc, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Bayer and industry lobby group the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
ALEC’s lobbying extends beyond the US through its International Relations Task Force, co-chaired by a representative of Philip Morris International.
ALEC has acted as a defacto front group for the tobacco industry in the US as part of a relationship dating back to 1979. It has been diligent in opposing regulatory restrictions and supporting strategies to improve public perceptions of tobacco companies.
ALEC initially wrote to the Australian Government in October 2010, warning that the introduction of plain packaging would be inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under international trade laws. The letter contains textbook tobacco industry objections to plain packaging: it amounts to government seizure of trademarks; there is no evidence it will work; it will make counterfeiting easier.