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

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Peter Bjork 202.408.5565

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

WASHINGTON - 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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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials -- regardless of party affiliation -- who sacrifice the common good to special interests. CREW advances its mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach.

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