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06.07.2010 0

CREW Asks HHS IG to Investigate Tobacco Panel’s Conflicts of Interest

From the Earth Times:

Earlier today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for an investigation into two appointments made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC).

The two members, Drs. Neal Benowitz and Jack Henningfield, have financial conflicts of interest based on their ties to pharmaceutical companies that make smoking cessation products.

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan noted, “TPSAC panel members are barred from having financial ties to cigarette companies. Common sense dictates they shouldn’t have ties to pharmaceutical companies that make smoking cessation products either. The public needs to have confidence that new regulations are aimed at preventing smoking, not increasing drug companies’ profits.”

Dr. Neal Benowitz is a paid consultant for pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Aradigm, assisting with the design, development and marketing of smoking cessation products. He also has served as a paid expert witness for plaintiffs suing tobacco companies, charging between $275-$600 per hour.

Dr. Jack Henningfield, through his firm, Pinney and Associates, is a paid consultant for pharmaceutical companies seeking approval of smoking cessation products. He is also a partner in a company that holds at least one patent for a nicotine gum. Like Dr. Benowitz, he also has been paid to testify for plaintiffs in tobacco cases.

The FDA has a history of allowing those with conflicts of interest to sit on panels. In 2006, FDA Chairman Lester Crawford pleaded guilty to conflicts of interest after it was revealed that he owned stock in Pepsico and Sysco at the time he chaired the FDA’s Obesity Working Group, which made recommendations affecting food and soft drink makers.

To deal with its conflicts issues, in 2008 the FDA issued new transparency and public disclosure policies for advisory committees, including a requirement that committee members be screened for any potential financial conflicts of interest. Absent a waiver, committee members cannot participate in particular matters in which they have a financial interest. Financial conflicts include stock holdings and contracts with companies that would be affected by the committee’s recommendations.

Sloan stated, “Loathing tobacco companies does not justify ignoring clear conflicts of interest. As great as it is that the FDA is finally regulating tobacco products – and as credentialed as Drs. Benowitz and Henningfield may be – there is no excuse for including those paid to consult or create smoking cessation products on the panel.” She continued, “How can we have faith in the TPSAC’s conclusions when some of its members have a vested financial interest in the panel’s decisions?”

The TPSAC is scheduled to meet this week, June 8th and 9th.

Click here to read CREW’s letter to the Inspector General.

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