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September 2021

Opposition grows to tobacco giant takeover of inhaler manufacturer

Healthcare professionals, charities and professional organisations have united to vociferously oppose the takeover of inhaler manufacturer Vectura by tobacco giant Philip Morris International, the company behind Marlboro cigarettes

The Primary Care Respiratory Society has expressed ‘deep concern’ about the takeover by a company ‘whose tobacco products continue to cause addiction, suffering and death around the world’.

PCRS chair Carol Stonham said: ‘It seems morally wrong for a company to profit from both causing respiratory disease and from selling the drugs needed to treat it’.

The PCRS was among the signatories to a letter to Vectura board members appealing to them to reject the tobacco company’s bid – but earlier this month, shareholders opted to accept the 165p per share offer from PMI, with 75% backing the deal.

Buying the inhaler manufacturer is part of PMI’s long-term plan to develop ‘smoke-free’ products and become a ‘broader healthcare and wellness’ company.

The Tobacco Free Portfolios letter said that signatories wanted to raise awareness of a number of ethical and practical issues, including:

  • Tobacco is a uniquely dangerous, addictive product, causing an estimated 8 million deaths and tens of millions of serious medical illnesses in 2020, and costing an estimated £14.7 billion in public health costs in the UK alone
  • PMI has a documented history of lobbying against tobacco control regulation and continues to manufacture 2 billion cigarettes a day
  • Vectura manufactures medications used in the treatment of smoking-related diseases, such as COPD and asthma. If PMI were to acquire Vectura, PMI could profit from the very illnesses that its products cause
  • Many medical journals (including Practice Nurse) and associations have policies of non-engagement with the tobacco industry. If Vectura becomes part of PMI, it may not be able to publish research in leading journals. Leading medical associations, including the British Thoracic Society and European Respiratory Society have declared that PMI ownership would prohibit their engagement with Vectura
  • This disruption to Vectura’s research networks has the potential to significantly impact on patient outcomes
  • Vectura’s customers may seek alternative drug providers to avoid the link to the tobacco industry.

Writing in The BMJ, respiratory consultant Sanjay Agrawal said: ‘The health sector… will cut all links with Vectura if the takeover goes ahead, as they would with any tobacco company, and use alternative companies to supply inhaled therapies.’

Vectura has already been forced to withdraw from sponsorship of a major pharmaceutical conference following objections from academics.

GSK acted swiftly to distance itself from Vectura when news of the deal broke last week (17 September), clarifying its relationship with the company and reassuring healthcare professionals that Vectura has ‘no role in the development, manufacture or supply chain of any GSK inhaler, including the Ellipta inhalers.’ GSK’s only connection to Vectura, it said, was through an historical licensing agreement to use a component used as an excipient in inhalers, a license that is due to expire within the next three years.

Practice Nurse 2021;51(7): online only