The electronic cigarette industry is rapidly growing and many smokers are choosing ecigs as a path to quit smoking. As ecigs sales boom, tobacco companies are quickly trying to recover their losses by launching their own vaping lines. But tobacco companies are not the only ones at risk for losing profits. Big Pharma is extremely invested in tobacco users with nicotine replacement therapies and smoking cessation drugs expected to be worth $4.6 billion per year by 2016. As ecigs cut into the potential profit margins, drug companies are actively lobbying to have the tobacco-free electronic cigarettes strictly regulated or banned.
The London Times was the first to report on a leaked memo from GlaxoSmithKline that revealed the drug company’s lobbying efforts. Glaxo offers multiple nicotine replacement products and they have a lot to lose if e-cigs become the smoker’s choice for cessation. In the memo, Sophie Crouse, from Glaxo’s consumer healthcare division argued that ecigs should be regulated as medications instead of tobacco products. “We believe in responsible and proportionate regulation for all nicotine-containing products as medicinal products,” she wrote. Crouse went on to say that ecigs could act as a gateway, leading more people to start smoking.
More details were soon revealed when Christopher Snowdon started investigating all the ways that Big Pharma is lobbying against the ecig industry. “This is a blatant attempt at rent-seeking by an obvious vested interest. We know that the pharmaceutical industry has been lobbying hard to hamper the growth of e-cigarettes so it comes as no surprise to find Glaxo using the tired old gateway argument,” he said.
Snowdon said that e-cigs are much more effective than the nicotine replacement therapies offered by drug companies and Big Pharma knows that to be true. “In my experience – and the experience of countless other people – e-cigarettes are much better substitutes for smoking. If they were really a ‘gateway’ to smoking, e-cigarettes would be good for companies like Glaxo as they would create more smokers,” he said.
The leaked memo is not the first instance when Big Pharma participated in questionable lobbying activities. Glaxo and Pzifer provided funding for the Uk National Smoking Cessation Conference, a seemingly perfect platform to push their own products. “As usual, both of these companies are main sponsors of the conference – apparently there is no problem having corporations that are vociferously opposed to the most promising development in smoking cessation paying for a conference about smoking cessation,” said Snowdon.
As lawmakers debate how to set appropriate regulations for electronic cigarettes, there is no room for Big Pharma to cloud objectivity with selfish motivation. These drug companies should be required to disclose their funding and other involvement in ecig research because their studies are likely to be biased. Unfortunately, the drug companies have allies around the world including insiders at the FDA. In fact, Mitch Zeller, the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products worked as a consultant with Glaxo before he took his current job. Zeller is the main author and project leader for determining appropriate ecig regulation in the United States. With his previous ties to Glaxo, the drug company known for lobbying against ecigs, is he really trustworthy to use good judgment?
Lobbying is a major problem and the only way that it will stop is if we blow the whistle every time it’s discovered. Big Pharma has a lot of money to invest in making sure lawmakers take their best interests into consideration. Now we know with 100% certainty that Big Pharma is targeting ecigs, so is there any hope for fair regulation?