News reports two days ago indicated that cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris’s takeover bid for Vectura, a UK manufacturer of lung health products, looks set to go through. This is not a matter of academic integrity and I am not sure about the integrity issues pure and simple either – but there are surely ethical considerations to ponder, and ponder I do.
Last month, discussing What’s not there, I wrote about e-smoking manufacturer Juul’s purchase of the May-June edition of the American Journal of Health Behavior (AJHB); the Special Open Access Issue on JUUL comprised eleven research studies and two editorial articles on JUUL, all attempting to provide academic studies to establish the public health benefits of electronic smoking products. This is just ahead of a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling on whether to allow JUUL to continue making and marketing its products. Although there seems to be strong evidence to support the notion that e-smoking devices are highly effective in weaning nicotine smokers off cigarettes on to far less harmful substitutes (and thus a public health benefit), there is also much evidence (not reported in the special issue of AJHB) that younger users become addicted to nicotine through using JUUL products and graduate to smoking cigarettes. Thus the FDA hearing and upcoming ruling, thus the lobbying and attempts to influence the outcome.
As well as the ethics of an academic journal selling the full issue as an advertising feature for a possibly unethical business, I also mentioned that Altria had bought a 35% stake in JUUL in 2018. Altria is owner of several tobacco companies – including Philip Morris, makers of Marlboro cigarettes. Buying into JUUL thus helps Altria claim that it is helping tobacco addicts give up cigarettes while simultaneously selling a product which creates new addicts.
Which is why I have doubts about this week’s news, that Philip Morris’s UK£1bn takeover bid for Vectura is now recommended to shareholders (over a slightly smaller bid from a private equity company) and looks likely to go through. It is as if Philip Morris’s business plan runs: create nicotine addicts and make money, help them give up their addiction and make money, help them with breathing and other lung problems caused by smoking and make money. This does not sit well.
There is also the danger, highlighted in press coverage of the takeover bid, that lung researchers at Vectura may be unwilling to work for a tobacco company and leave, and also that research hospitals and universities may also block Continue reading