Saturday, 28 August 2010

Competing interests?

The staff of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies have written a letter to The Lancet calling on the government to continue its funding of tobacco control organisations:

The Government is reducing the size of the tobacco policy team in the Department of Health and closing most of the regional offices of tobacco control...

Improving public health is something that we all need to take seriously, and since the prevention of smoking has more potential to improve public health, and to do so quickly, than any other intervention, tobacco control should be a key government priority.

They say that the cost-cutting is surprising "given Lansley's wish to base policy on evidence" (stop giggling at the back). This all looks like standard rent-seeking, but what took my eye was this:

We declare that we have no conflicts of interest.

Really? Some people would say that working for a state-funded tobacco control group necessarily constitutes a competing interest if you're writing in support of state-funding of tobacco control groups. Be that as it may, we know that many of the authors have competing interests because they have already declared them on their website:

John Britton chairs the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group and is a member of the board of trustees of Action on Smoking and Health.

Peter Hajek undertakes consultancy for and has received research funds from a number of companies developing and manufacturing smoking cessation products.

Paul Aveyard has accepted hospitality from the pharmaceutical industry. He has done consultancy and research work in smoking cessation for Pfizer, McNeil, and Xenova Biotechnology that has led to payments to him and his research account.

Linda Bauld is vice-chair of the Cancer Research UK Tobacco Advisory Group and serves as Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health on tobacco control.

Tim Coleman has, within the last 5 years, done occasional consultancy work for companies that manufacture NRT products (Johnson and Johnson, Pierre Fabre Laboratories). He has also advised a Public Relations company on the strength of the evidence for using Nicobloc as an aid for smoking cessation.

Robert West undertakes research and consultancy for companies that develop and manufacture smoking cessation medications. He has a share of a patent for a novel nicotine delivery device. He is a trustee of QUIT. His research is funded mostly by Cancer Research UK.

So what gives? Does The Lancet have a more relaxed policy on the declaration of competing interests thatn the UKTCS? Did the authors not consider their competing interests relevant in this instance? Or did they just forget?

Thanks for Michael McFadden for the tip.


Michael J. McFadden said...

Chris, it's always possible that these people simply aren't very experienced or professional. When Dave Kuneman and I did a study several years ago we were quite aware of the need to properly declare "competing interests" even though in Dave's case they were FARRRR less "competing" than any of these authors: He'd simply worked for a while 20 odd years ago as a flavoring chemist at 7-Up soda company. 7-Up was bought at some point by Philip Morris so we felt it justified a competing interest note.

TobaccoScam felt that even such a mild association justified throwing out study into their "Fake Hospitality Studies" bin with the note that it had been done by "a tobacco company researcher."

Now compare Dave's level of "competing interest" (which was duly and openly noted in the study) with the NRT connections of the above researchers.

It's hard to see how they could have claimed "no competing interests" without being either incompetent or unethical, but perhaps one of them will stop in here and offer an explanation.

Not that I'm going to hold my breath while waiting of course.

Michael J. McFadden,
Competing Interest: Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

SimonF said...


O/T but did you catch this weeks' More or Less? They have a piece on the Spirit Level and and interview with late Pickett.

Tim Hartford even takes her to task about murder rates and her claim that we could reduce ours by 75%.