Criteria not met for tobacco industry-supported foundation
December 20, 2017
On September 13, 2017 Philip Morris International (PMI) announced its support for the creation of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, whose mission is to "advance the dialogue on smoking cessation and harm reduction," (www.smokefreeworld.org/about-us: December 18, 2017). PMI has pledged almost USD $1 billion over 12 years beginning in 2018 for the foundation, and to our knowledge, is the sole funder.
In 2009, IGTC director Dr. Joanna Cohen co-authored a paper outlining eight criteria for evaluating tobacco industry-supported research funding programs. This October, the foundation’s founder and president-designate Derek Yach cited the "Cohen-Zeller criteria" in an article published by the Lancet on October 14, 2017. He asserts that his foundation meets the criteria set forth in the 2009 paper. Dr. Cohen and co-author Dr. Thomas Eissenberg disagree with this interpretation and application of the criteria.
In response to the online publication of Yach’s article, Dr. Cohen and Dr. Eissenberg submitted the correspondence below to the Lancet on October 15, 2017. Despite multiple follow-ups, as of today—more than two months after submission—the Lancet has not yet accepted or rejected the correspondence.
Because tobacco-caused disease and death remain a pressing public health issue worldwide and because the PMI-funded foundation is actively seeking to build partnerships around the world, we can no longer wait to get this message out to the public. The authors have decided to retract their correspondence from the Lancet and issue the letter through our own channels.
The letter to the Lancet
October 15, 2017
Corresponding author: Joanna E. Cohen, PhD, Director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control and Bloomberg Professor of Disease Prevention, Department of Health, Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 2213 McElderry, 4th Floor, Baltimore, MD, USA, 21205. Email: email@example.com; Tel: 1-410-614-5378
Thomas Eissenberg, PhD, Professor of Psychology (Health Program) and Director, Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1112 East Clay Street, Suite B-08 (for express mail), Box 980205 (for US Postal Service), Richmond, VA, USA, 23298. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: 1-804-827-4617
The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World claims1 to address eight criteria used to evaluate tobacco industry-supported research funding programs.2
The claim is incorrect in several instances. One criterion emphasized independence, and the foundation’s independence is jeopardized by having four predetermined research foci. A more independent approach involves an autonomous committee composed of internationally-regarded subject-matter experts identifying a research agenda and publishing the process and results of their deliberations, while acknowledging that agendas may change as the relevant science evolves. Like this new foundation, past tobacco industry-supported research organizations had agendas determined behind closed doors and limited to topics that benefited the industry. Further, because the foundation was launched without prior broad, meaningful consultation, many qualified experts likely will not participate in its activities, thus rendering uncertain its de facto independence moving forward. Also, if the foundation’s 12 years of industry funding are not in an irrevocable trust, they could be contingent upon foundation output.
Another criterion recommends disclosure as well as prohibition of some relationships. The foundation’s bylaws (www.smoke-freeworld.org), require disclosure but say nothing about which relationships will not be acceptable.
The criterion that funders not realize public relations gains is absent in the foundation’s bylaws. Indeed, the foundation’s launch was focused on industry funding, exactly what our paper warned against.
We conclude that due to lack of independence, the potential for conflicts of interest, and clear public relations gains, the foundation does not represent a tobacco industry-supported funding model that should be acceptable to the research community.
Dr. Cohen was supported from her endowed chair position. Dr. Eissenberg is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the U.S. National Institutes of Health under Award Number P50DA036105 and the Center for Tobacco Products of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views of the NIH or the FDA. None of these funding sources had a role in the preparation of this correspondence.
Dr. Eissenberg is a paid consultant in litigation against the tobacco industry and is named on a patent application for a device that measures the puffing behavior of electronic cigarette users.
- Yach D. Foundation for a smoke-free world. Lancet 2017; 390:1807-10.
- Cohen JE, Zeller M, Eissenberg T, Parascandola M, O’Keefe R, Planinac L, Leischow S. Criteria for evaluating tobacco control research funding programs and their application to models that include financial support from the tobacco industry. Tobacco Control 2009; 18:228-34.