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Canadian Lung Association condemns acquisition of Vectura by Philip Morris International

The Canadian Lung Association is sounding the alarm in response to the acquisition of Vectura, a UK based asthma drug maker, by Philip Morris International.

In a $1.4 billion dollar deal, Philip Morris International (PMI) acquired 97% of the shares for Vectura Group Plc. taking the company private, off the publicly traded London Stock Exchange.1

The background

Tobacco remains the leading cause of disease and death in Canada, responsible for the deaths  of 48,000 Canadians each year.2 With this new acquisition, Philip Morris International, the maker of the brand Marlboro, stands to benefit from treating the very lung disease it has a role in creating.3,4

In recent years PMI has attempted to rebrand by claiming they want to move to a ‘Beyond Nicotine Strategy’ despite their continued production of harmful products.5 This acquisition then, is part of a wider strategy on nicotine based inhaled therapies. They previously purchased Fetin Pharma who make a nicotine gum and Oti Topic, a US based respiratory drug developer.4

Vectura manufactures inhalation products commonly used for people with asthma and other lung diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).7 Inhalation products include inhalers (or puffers) and nebulizers, which is a small machine that turns medicine into a mist. Nebulizers are commonly prescribed for patients suffering from lung disease, many of which may be caused by tobacco  use.7

Worldwide health organizations have condemned this acquisition including our colleagues at the Canadian Thoracic Society.8 The Canadian Lung Association and the Canadian Thoracic Society work collaboratively on tobacco and vaping control and urge that there is no role for the tobacco industry in the health care sector.

Why we should be alarmed

Philip Morris International continues to be a big player in tobacco addiction. The claim that a tobacco company wants to play a role in moving ‘beyond nicotine’ must be called into question. At the same time, PMI remains a major player in the global cigarette supply chain making 75% of the $28 billion in annual revenue from combustible tobacco products.1 It cannot continue to produce and promote this deadly product while claiming to play a role in health wellness. If the move to ‘beyond nicotine’ was genuine it would cease the sale of tobacco products internationally.

Patient health outcomes may be impacted: Patients rely on these medications. The impact of a tobacco company purchasing this company is two fold for patients. There may be a disruption in medication because:

  • Patients may not want to use a product that is developed by the tobacco industry, and;
  • Health care providers may not want to prescribe a product owned by the tobacco industry.

Disruptions to medication have the potential for long term health implications.1,9,10 Switching inhalers can come with consequences including lower adherence and new side effects.

Researchers and the scientific community will suffer: Researchers and scientists who have received support from Vectura may have a conflict of interest under section 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).1 This may mean they will not be able to publish, present, and/or collaborate on new research to further the advancement of new generations of inhaler therapies.

This acquisition may result in a wider influence on health policy by the tobacco industry: There is concern that acquiring a health and wellness organization could buy PMI a seat at the table with governments.

A private company means less transparency: The 97% stake in Vectura allowed the company to become privately traded which means fewer obligations for reporting and disclosure.

The Canadian Lung Association strongly condemns the acquisition of Vectura by Philip Morris International and rejects their role in eliminating the epidemic they have created.

What can be done?

The takeover of Vectura by Philip Morris was unfortunately successful and while we cannot undo this unfortunate reality, health organizations, concerned patients and healthcare providers can continue to strengthen our advocacy and raise public awareness.

Recommendations for action:

  • Health organizations could apply the same standards that apply to governments under 5.3 of the FCTC. This would mean that inclusion in health conferences and sponsorship  by Vectura would not fall within the guidelines.
  • Healthcare providers and the public should continue to amplify their voices to raise concern and reject this notion of the role of the tobacco industry in healthcare.