In the wake of the UK government’s decision to scrap plans for plain packaging of cigarettes, and the ensuing furore following allegations about the possible influence on that decision of political strategist Lynton Crosby, who has links with the tobacco industry, four prominent addiction researchers have issued a call for health care organisations and governments around the globe to avoid using market research firms that also work for tobacco companies.
In mid-July, the UK Department of Health revealed in a public statement that it would shelve plans to introduce plain packaging of cigarettes, widely reported as a policy u-turn. There was concern about the possible influence of Conservative campaign strategist Lynton Crosby, whose PR and lobbying firm has links with the tobacco industry. Crosby has since denied that he had had "any conversation or discussion with, or lobbied, the prime minister, or indeed the health secretary or the health minister, on plain packaging or tobacco issues." However, the allegations have led to worldwide debates over the wisdom of government leaders using public relations firms that also represent the tobacco industry, thereby giving the industry another opportunity to influence health policy.
In an editorial published online today in the scientific journal Addiction, researchers from Cancer Research UK and the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training have asked public health organisations and governments to go one step further and avoid using market research firms with tobacco industry links. They argue that market research firms that serve both the health care industry and the tobacco industry face a potentially unresolvable conflict of interest: the information they gather for their public health clients would be of great use to their tobacco clients, whose goals are not in the interests of public health. Although market research companies say they have internal safeguards against such information-sharing, it would be far better to avoid the potential conflict in the first place.
Lead author Jamie Brown says “we could begin by asking individual market research companies who specialise in healthcare and governmental work if they would be willing to avoid working with tobacco clients. If enough companies respond positively, we can establish rules to favour those companies in any contracting process. If not, we can open negotiations with the major research companies to broker a strict policy on client engagement.”
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Brown J, Michie S, Raupach T, and West R. Should public health bodies stop commissioning research from market research companies that serve the tobacco industry? Addiction, 108: doi:10.1111/add.12302
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Addiction (www.addictionjournal.org) is a monthly international scientific journal publishing peer-reviewed research reports on alcohol, illicit drugs, tobacco, and gambling as well as editorials and other debate pieces. Owned by the Society for the Study of Addiction, it has been in continuous publication since 1884. Addiction is the number one journal in the 2012 ISI Journal Citation Reports Ranking in the Substance Abuse Category (Social Science Edition). Membership to the Society for the Study of Addiction (http://www.addiction-ssa.org/) is £85 and includes an annual subscription to Addiction.