Medscape Scraps Million Dollar Deal With Tobacco Giant After Outcry
Test tube rack stocked with electronic cigarettes.

A $3-million “educational” deal between tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) and Medscape, a medical education provider for healthcare professionals, has been abandoned after the BMJ and The Examination exposed it last month.

The deal involved a PMI grant to Medscape to fund continuing medical education (CME) accredited courses on smoking cessation for doctors and other healthcare providers. 

With waning tobacco sales, PMI has moved into selling smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes alongside cigarettes.

However, Medscape has “bowed to pressure and agreed to permanently remove a series of accredited medical education courses on smoking cessation funded by the tobacco industry giant Philip Morris International (PMI)”, according to The BMJ.

“Medscape has acknowledged its ‘misjudgment’ in a letter to complainants and says that it will not accept funding from any organisation affiliated with the tobacco industry in the future,” the journal added.

When the exposé was first published, Professor Anna Gilmore, director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, UK, said that Medscape had “now lost all credibility and has some serious questions to answer. PMI lost all credibility decades ago, despite its ceaseless and highly misleading attempts to rehabilitate its image. It has now sunk to a new low.”

A few years back, PMI established the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World headed by former World Health Organization (WHO) official Derek Yach to promote its tobacco-free products. 

The intention of the Medscape course appears to be to downplay the negative health effects of non-cigarette nicotine products.

“Medscape had planned to deliver 13 programmes under the deal—called the PMI Curriculum, according to the internal document. It had also planned podcasts and a ‘TV-like series’,” The BMJ revealed.

Medscape describes itself as “the leading online global destination for physicians and healthcare professionals worldwide, offering the latest medical news and expert perspectives; essential point-of-care drug and disease information; and relevant professional education and CME”.

The tobacco industry has a long history of sponsoring academics and research aimed at downplaying the negative impact of tobacco and smoking.

In its response to The BMJ, a PMI spokesperson said: “Health agencies around the world have recognised the beneficial role that smoke-free products can play to improve public health.

“We are concerned that known special interest groups are actively blocking medical education that the [US] Food and Drug Administration and medical community have determined are needed. These actions stand to prolong use and possibly increase consumption of combustible cigarettes – the most harmful form of nicotine use.”

But Professor Tim McAfee, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health, ctold The BMJ that PMI’s partnership with Medscape “the ultimate example of the fox not only signing up to guard the hen house but offering to sit on the eggs.” 

“It is a perversion of ethics surrounding continuing medical education to allow the very companies that caused and profit from the continuing epidemic of tobacco-related death and disease to be involved in any way,” added McAfee, who is based at the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California in San Francisco.

Image Credits: Unsplash.

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