Experts Criticize Tobacco Company’s Sponsorship of Doctor Training as “Appalling”

The tobacco giant Philip Morris has come under fire for sponsoring medical education courses across various countries, a move that has been condemned by critics as “grotesque.” Advertising materials reviewed by the Guardian reveal that Philip Morris International (PMI) or its regional subsidiaries have backed programs on smoking cessation and harm reduction in South Africa, the Middle East, and the US.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concerns that such partnerships could undermine public health efforts and has called for a ban on collaborations of this nature.

Dr. Tess Legg from the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group noted that sponsoring medical education forms part of a broader strategy aimed at influencing medical practice and restoring the tobacco industry’s credibility among healthcare professionals.

Nicholas Hopkinson, a respiratory medicine professor at Imperial College London, condemned the tobacco company’s involvement in medical education, highlighting the staggering death toll caused by smoking. He labeled the idea of Philip Morris having any role in medical education as “grotesque.”

The sponsored courses offer participants credits for continuing medical education (CME) or continuing professional development (CPD), essential for maintaining medical licenses. Hopkinson and others are advocating for explicit policies prohibiting tobacco industry involvement in medical education from bodies responsible for providing or regulating such programs.

Dr. Rüdiger Krech, WHO’s director of health promotion, echoed these sentiments, calling for certification authorities to ban partnerships with tobacco and related industries in medical education to prevent the spread of misinformation harmful to public health.

In South Africa, the Alliance of South African Independent Practitioners Associations (Asaipa) has organized webinars on harm reduction in public health sponsored by Philip Morris South Africa. However, this has raised concerns about potential breaches of local laws aimed at reducing tobacco industry influence.

Sharon Nyatsanza, from South Africa’s National Council Against Smoking, emphasized Philip Morris’s history of funding research and medical professionals in ways conflicting with public health interests. Together with other public health organizations, Nyatsanza has urged regulatory bodies to establish clear policies prohibiting tobacco industry funding and sponsorship in medical education.

Asaipa responded by stating that all content in their CPD webinars undergoes rigorous review to ensure no promotion of partner products occurs during educational sessions. They pledge to review their sponsorship and involvement with PMI to align with ethical standards.

Philip Morris’s sponsorship extends beyond South Africa, including sessions and speakers at conferences in countries like Jordan and Egypt. Dr. Ahmad Abbadi from the Global Alliance for Tobacco Control raised concerns that tobacco companies target regions with weaker regulations, exploiting opportunities to advocate for their interests.

Abbadi highlighted the importance of harm reduction in public health but cautioned against tobacco companies co-opting the term to promote new products lacking sufficient independent research to support claims of reduced harm compared to cigarettes.

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