Pharmacy college scraps relationship with tobacco company

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The Australasian College of Pharmacy has scrapped its relationship with tobacco company Philip Morris International that was planned to be part of a wider educational project.

The relationship was revealed through the publication of an article on nicotine e-cigarettes. The article, which was distributed via email by the Australian Journal of Pharmacy, was "supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Philip Morris International."

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia and Pharmaceutical Society of Australia have both indicated their opposition to the involvement of tobacco companies in professional development. The Guild, which has close links to the Australasian College of Pharmacy (college), effectively repudiated the organisation over its relationship with Philip Morris.

In a statement, college CEO Dr Dimitri Kopanakis said, "The College viewed the offer of an unrestricted educational grant from Philip Morris as an opportunity to keep pharmacists informed about the changing regulatory frameworks for preventative health, in the spirit of open conversations with pharmacists, doctors and suppliers about the products that doctors prescribe for pharmacists to dispense.

"We had planned a research dissemination project that focused on education about quitting smoking and vaping was part of that. The project was to be underpinned by a robust, evidence-based academic process. A steering committee of respected health professionals and educators was to oversee the project."

Dr Kopanakis said the college "had carefully considered the offer from Philip Morris to support NVP-related [nicotine vaping products] educational activities, to ensure the grant would be entirely unconditional and in the interests of pharmacists needing to understand the changes to NVPs. 

"Dr MacFarlane’s article was scheduled to be published close to when the changes took effect. We can confirm that no financial transactions had occurred by that date or at all and the College had since discontinued the arrangement to allay any further concerns about its probity."

Analysis

What process involving healthcare professionals results in a decision to work with a tobacco company? Dr Kopanakis says the college saw the relationship as an "opportunity"?

The college's explanation of its decision is hardly adequate given it includes no concession of error. It is an overly defensive justification of what was an awful decision to partner with a tobacco company.

When did the college actually decide to terminate the relationship? After it was revealed in the publication of the sponsored article? Would the relationship remain in place had it not been for the widespread negative reaction?

The claim no financial consideration had been transacted at the time of publication is semantic given it appears to be a defence based on invoices and payment cycles. The undeniable fact based on its own disclosure is that the college chose to establish a financial relationship with a tobacco company.

Why not just admit the error of judgment? It would show real leadership and the entire pharmaceutical sector would benefit from the lesson because it was inevitable that tobacco companies, which are also amongst the largest providers of nicotine e-cigarettes, would seek to involve themselves in the medicines supply chain.

It was made inevitable by the TGA's decision to authorise these products as 'prescription only medicines'. Did the regulator give this inevitability any real consideration?