On September 16, 2021, Philip Morris International (PMI) announced its acquisition of Vectura, a United Kingdom-based medical drug and device company that specializes in inhalation therapies for the treatment of respiratory diseases despite the outpouring of opposition for public health organizations both in the United States and abroad.
In August, when the potential acquisition was first brought to our attention, AARC and other US-based pulmonary groups signed a joint letter to senior officials in the United Kingdom urging them to use their authority to prevent the sale of Vectura to PMI. As the letter noted, PMI wants to both addict individuals to their tobacco products that regularly cause chronic respiratory disease and then profit from selling inhaled medicines to treat them.
As a follow-up to that letter, President Tooley and other public health experts around the world, joined the British Tobacco-Free Portfolios organization in writing directly to Vectura shareholders, highlighting significant risks posed by the acquisition as well as problematic ethical issues. Among the potential risks to the company are the ability to secure government grants, publication of research in medical journals, links with valued academic and public health institutions, ability to secure contracts and win business, and most importantly, potential long-term risks to patient outcomes due to disruption to research networks and inability to access funds from public sector bodies. Additionally, The Guardian reported Vectura was excluded from a pharmaceutical conference after academics staged a rebellion due to the PMI takeover.
As a last-ditch effort after the takeover was announced, President Tooley and other leaders sent a letter to the United Kingdom’s Public Health Minister reiterating opposition to the action and stressing concern that the takeover “will allow PMI to legitimize tobacco industry participation within health debates and provide a greater platform from which to deploy similar tactics in support of tobacco industry interests…” The letter encourages the Minister to raise awareness to all government entities and officials of a key provision in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which explicitly states, “in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”
We hope all government entities in the United Kingdom will do the right thing and take heed to that rule of law because patients’ lives and their quality of life are at stake.
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