|August 13, 2002
Firms Weakened Market for Anti-Smoking Products
Tobacco companies have
used their financial ties with nicotine gum and nicotine patch manufacturers to pressure
these firms into weakening their marketing of the nicotine-replacement products, according
to a UCSF study of tobacco industry documents.
The examination of financial ties and conflicts of interest revealed that the parent
company of one tobacco manufacturer also owned a firm that made nicotine gum, so the
company profited both from selling tobacco products and drugs to break the tobacco
Such financial ties and conflicts of interest should be made public, researchers argue
in the August 14 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Their analysis stems from a study of 187 internal tobacco industry documents dating
from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s accessed on the web sites of Philip Morris, RJ
Reynolds, Lorillard and the Tobacco Institute. The researchers don't know if the conflicts
of interest they uncovered still exist, since neither tobacco nor pharmaceutical companies
publicly disclose such ties.
"This study shows how the tobacco industry has used its financial might to thwart
public health," said Lisa Bero, PhD, UCSF professor of clinical pharmacy and health
policy "In today's business climate, the ethics of financial ties should be discussed
more openly. We should ask if a company should be able to profit both from selling an
addictive product and a drug to treat the addiction." Bero is senior author on the
Lead author is Bhavna Shamasunder, who holds a masters degree in environmental studies.
She was a research associate with Bero during the study. A Philip Morris internal document
dealing with the nicotine gum Nicorette summarizes a tobacco industry strategy found in a
number of documents: "As a customer (of agricultural chemicals and pesticides) we
have an ameliorating influence on Nicorette promotions. We would lose this impact as a
Some of the documents focus on Marion Merrell Dow, then a subsidiary of Dow Chemical
Company, which released Nicorette gum in 1980. The company's marketing of the gum included
a Smoking Cessation Newsletter to help doctors advise their patients to quit smoking. The
first - and only - newsletter issue contained an interview with an expert discussing how
smoking addiction develops and is maintained. The newsletter also included statistics on
deaths from smoking and an article encouraging physicians to urge their patients to quit
Philip Morris bought about $8 million of chemicals from Dow Chemical in 1982 to help
make cigarettes. The tobacco company quickly attacked what it called the
"anti-cigarette" Nicorette marketing campaign. Dow claimed it was not taking an
anti-cigarette approach, but it stopped publication of the newsletter, and by 1984, its
educational material was limited to the single sentence, "If you want to quit smoking
for good, see your doctor."
Philip Morris continued to pressure Dow. Internal documents stress that future
purchases of Dow products would be "predicated on Dow's performance as a supplier as
well as the course of the Nicorette program."
"The tobacco company pressured Dow to cut out the aspect of their marketing
approach that stressed the health hazards of smoking," Bero says. "The result
was to reduce the number of people who would be encouraged to try the product to quit
In another case, Philip Morris took action once they concluded that sales of
transdermal nicotine patches would have a damaging effect on cigarette sales in the early
1990s. CIBA-Geigy, manufacturer of the nicotine patch Habitrol, had a long-term financial
relationship with Philip Morris. Soon after the release of Habitrol an internal Philip
Morris memo stated that "marketing of this product included a 'smoke-busters'
campaign which bordered on being anti-tobacco...Since CIBA-Geigy also markets a number of
agri-chemicals used in tobacco production, our concern on this advertising program was
funneled through their Ag Chemicals Division. Members of the Ag Chemicals Division of
CIBA-Geigy have met with the Pharmaceutical Division (which manufactured Habitrol) to
express concerns over the 'smoke-busters' campaign and to help devise more appropriate
advertising for this product in the future."
Under pressure from the tobacco company, the Habitrol manufacturer agreed to
"groundrules" for advertising their product which met with Philip Morris's
A third case reveals that a Swedish-owned holding company, Procordia AB, held
controlling financial interest in both a pharmaceutical company that manufactured nicotine
gum to quit smoking and a tobacco company that sold a tobacco chewing gum designed to keep
the habit going. The researchers point out that by collaborating and sharing technology
among its holdings, "Procordia AB had the potential to benefit financially from
creating an addiction through tobacco sales that could then be treated with their nicotine
"The study shows that, once again, the tobacco industry is putting profit above
anything - even when this means pressuring companies to reduce sales of products that can
help people stop using deadly tobacco," Bero said. "Maybe greater public
scrutiny can force greater corporate responsibility."
All documents used in the study are now online at UCSF's Legacy Foundation site:
Legacy.library.ucsf.edu Documents can be accessed by typing in the "Bates
number" cited in the references of the JAMA paper. The study was supported by the
California Tobacco-Related Diseases Research Program.
Source: UCSF News Service Wallace Ravven