Boycott Vectura but not at patient’s expense: TSANZ

Public health

By Michael Woodhead

21 Mar 2022

The Big Tobacco takeover of inhaler technology company Vectura requires a boycott but not at the expense of patients currently using inhalers based on the company’s input, the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand says.

A statement issued on behalf of the TSANZ Board and published in Respirology says that the company now owned by Philip Morris International should face sanctions from health professionals, researchers, research organisations and respiratory societies.

Such arrangements will likely including avoidance of collaborations, commercial contracts and restrictions on publications and involvement in medical and scientific conferences.

But the boycott should not extend to a blanket ban on the use of inhalers that were developed by Vectura prior to the takeover, the society recommends.

The TSANZ notes that some of these treatments have been licensed to pharmaceutical companies and prescribed by physicians for patients with airway diseases for many years, and it may be difficult or impossible for patients to switch to alternatives

“Given that these arrangements were made in good faith before there was any hint of a link to Big Tobacco, we as a society see little value in pursuing sanctions against these pharmaceutical companies and researchers,” its statement says.

Patient welfare should be at the centre of decisions about inhaler prescribing, and changes should only be made based on informed consent from patients, it advises.

While health professionals and patients may seek alternative inhaler delivery devices, due to reluctance to use devices linked to Big Tobacco, switching from one inhaler to another may come with consequences, including poor clinical outcomes, it cautions.

“The potential for stigmatising patients and making them feel guilty about their choice of inhaler should be avoided at all costs. Some patients and prescribers will elect to continue using inhalers linked to Vectura. In some situations, there will be no suitable alternative. Others may want to switch to an inhaler with no links to Vectura, where there is a suitable alternative option.”

However, the TSANZ strongly encourages doctors, healthcare institutions and companies to avoid or discontinue any future agreements and/or contracts with the Vectura Group.

“Furthermore, we are calling on all companies to publicly communicate their current arrangements with the Vectura group and to actively develop, implement and communicate their strategies to exit these agreements,” it says.

“Health professionals, researchers, research organisations and companies in the treatment and device market must not enter into new collaborations or commercial agreements with Vectura. Such arrangements will likely invoke sanctions from TSANZ, it warns.

The Society says PMI’s takeover of Vectura is part of a cynical tobacco industry strategy to reposition itself as part of the health sector and to undermine public health messages.

“From a national policy perspective, government bodies that subsidise medications and devices for public use will need to consider if it is appropriate for taxpayer revenue to subsidise inhaler devices licensed to Vectura or, more accurately, Big Tobacco,” it says.

“Clinicians, patients and organisations with an interest in lung health should not allow PMI’s takeover of Vectura to diminish our ongoing efforts to eliminate the harms associated with tobacco use, nor its replacement by toxic inhaled nicotine delivery products,” the statement concludes.

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