After acquiring healthcare company Vectura, tobacco giant Philip Morris to profit from disease treatment its products create


Cigarettes are the only legal consumer product that kills up to half of their users when consumed exactly as the manufacturer intended. The diseases they cause cost Australia’s healthcare system A $ 136.9 billion annually.

Philip Morris International (PMI) is a world leader in the cigarette supply chain. But with steady declines in cigarette sales over the past 20 years, tobacco companies such as Philip Morris are now trying to market themselves as healthcare companies with a vision of a “smoke-free future.”

One of the industry’s first initiatives was to make nicotine products other than cigarettes, such as nicotine replacement therapy to help people quit smoking.

In the latest move to diversify his portfolio, Philip Morris acquired UK healthcare company Vectura Group Plc, at a cost of over £ 1 billion (AU $ 1.9 billion).

Vectura specializes in manufacturing inhalation products such as commonly used inhalers (or inhalers) and nebulizers that help people with asthma and lung disease breathe.

Read more: Big Tobacco’s decisive defeat over plain packaging laws won’t stop its war on public health

On August 12, Vectura’s board of directors announced that it was “unanimously recommending PMI’s offer” to shareholders, with the decision based on price and access to resources.

Vectura’s Board of Directors noted:

[…] Wider stakeholders could benefit from PMI’s significant financial resources and its intentions to increase investment in research and development and operate Vectura as a stand-alone business unit that will form the backbone of its inhalation therapy business .

On September 15, the agreement became official. And that’s how the problems start.

Why Vectura?

By acquiring Vectura, Philip Morris will benefit from treating the very diseases its products cause, as nebulizers are commonly prescribed to patients with tobacco-related lung disease.

The takeover of Vectura cost Philip Morris more than £ 1 billion.

Philip Morris’ interest in the company is to help it generate “[…] at least $ 1 billion in annual net income from Beyond Nicotine sources in 2025 ”. In other words, Philip Morris plans to expand the development of electronic cigarettes and start taking advantage of other inhaling devices.

This despite the fact that there is limited evidence to support e-cigarettes in helping people quit smoking, but growing evidence showing adverse health effects.

If Philip Morris is serious about going “beyond nicotine,” he should stop his aggressive promotion and sale of all tobacco products.

Why is this important?

The consequences of the acquisition of Vectura by Philip Morris are considerable, especially for medical and research staff fighting respiratory diseases. The takeover of Philip Morris will have important implications for the industry.

Many public health organizations, health professional organizations, universities, health professionals and researchers cannot and do not want to work with tobacco companies or their affiliates. This is in line with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

This means that researchers who have received Vectura’s support, or used their products to launch the next generation of inhaler therapies, will no longer be able to do so.

There will be conflicts of interest preventing them from publishing their results, collaborating on grants for new research and presenting their work at conferences.

Read more: Medical journals refuse to publish tobacco-funded research

This has already started to happen, with pharmaceutical industry conferences such as the Drug Delivery to the Lungs conference ending Vectura’s sponsorship, forcing the company representative to step down from their committee and preventing them from attending.

Going forward, businesses, healthcare professionals and researchers now inadvertently linked to big tobacco through Vectura may be prevented from fully participating in the medical and scientific community. The European Respiratory Society, for example, excludes the participation of anyone with ties to the tobacco industry in the past ten years.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) will need to determine whether it is appropriate for Australian taxpayers to subsidize inhalers licensed to Vectura or, more frankly, big tobacco.

Many physicians will be looking for alternative devices to prescribe for their patients that do not contribute to the benefits of Philip Morris or Vectura.

Meanwhile, people with lung disease are also likely to be reluctant to use heavy tobacco related devices.

An older man sits on the edge of his bed, breathing through a nebulizer mask.
Vectura makes nebulizers that help people with asthma and lung disease breathe.

But switching from one inhaler to another has consequences, such as reduced adherence and new side effects, leading to poorer clinical outcomes.

There are also concerns that Philip Morris’ takeover of Vectura may be used to buy “a seat at the table” of policymakers and health professionals, meaning they could have a say in policymaking. government.

The tobacco industry has not changed

The tobacco industry remains one of the deadliest in the world. And Philip Morris continues to undermine public health messages, while trying to disguise himself as a health brand.

Yet Philip Morris’ corporate statutory regulations, which are the standards by which they conduct business, list evidence-based actions to reduce smoking rates – such as strong health warnings on packages and bans on smoking in public places – as “risk factors” for his business.

Philip Morris’ move into the healthcare industry, bolstered by Vectura’s latest acquisition, should be greeted with as much disgust as it is contempt.

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