Sense of threat from electronic cigarettes: Lobbyists serving corporations?

Medicines enjoy great popularity in Poland. We are especially eager to use over-the-counter drugs. It is said, off the record, that countless lobbyists contribute to the success of pharmaceutical companies. Is Poland a place where pharmaceutical companies conduct lobbying activities?

The Open Secrets report states that manufacturers of medical products and dietary supplements in USA employ 1,244 lobbyists. The expenses of medicine and supplement products manufacturers on lobbying amount to nearly 125 million USD.

For comparison sake, the annual budgets of pharmaceutical makers for lobbying in Europe are around 40 million euro. Almost half of this money is spent on local lobbyists whose job is to influence authorities responsible for making key decisions. The remainder is spent, among others, on social campaigns, supporting the activity of patient organizations or professional doctor associations. Still, it should be remembered that many pharmaceutical companies choose not to file their lobbying activities to the official register.

In the view of data gathered by PMR Consulting, the actual value of lobbying activities, assuming the businesses submit complete reports, is around 90 million euro, twice the official amount.

Lobbying in the healthcare sector

At the same time, according to the published register of activities that lobbying businesses carried out in 2014 towards the Ministry of Health, lobbying activities were only performed by … 2 lobbyists, and with regard to only one act (on combating drug addiction).

This may be surprising, especially that Poland is the largest pharmaceutical market in Central and Eastern Europe, with the medicine and dietary supplements market valued at over 27.3 billion PLN annually.

Is there no lobbying by pharmaceutical companies in Poland? Or are we dealing with mighty lobbying machinery hidden from public eyes? As shown in a report by the University of Cambridge, the lobbying methods of pharmaceutical companies active in Poland may consist, mostly, in “invisible” sponsoring of doctors, experts responsible for qualifying drugs for refunds, making payments to journalists writing one-sided articles and organizing pressure by medical circles on members of parliament.

The New England Journal of Medicine claims that pharmaceutical companies dramatically improved their operating methods in recent years. Instead of advertising drugs that cure illnesses, they advertise illnesses that fit their drugs. The strategy aims to convince the public (and, obviously, the healthcare officials and politicians) that a large part of the society is at risk from illnesses that require prolonged treatment. Consequently, heartburn became the gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD; impotence became erectile dysfunction, or ED; premenstrual tension evolved into premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD; shyness turned into social anxiety disorder. This technique is called disease mongering. Are we facing this phenomenon in Poland as well?

Pharmaceutical companies and their competition

According to manufacturers of e-cigarettes, lobbyists working in favor of pharmaceutical businesses may employ disease mongering also towards competing products, such as electronic cigarettes. E-cigarettes are an alternative for NRT products such as chewing gums, patches, inhalation devices and nicotine pastilles, designed to satiate nicotine hunger.

– Lobbying activities serve to instill, in public institutions, a sense of threat from electronic cigarettes – which actually solve the problem of diseases caused by tobacco smoke, rather than bring about a new addiction epidemic. However, for pharmaceutical companies this means reduced consumption of nicotine replacement therapy products – explains Jerzy Jurczyński from the eSmoking Association.

The researchers of the Harvard School of Public Health proved that nicotine replacement therapies designed to help smokers quit are actually not particularly effective. Nicotine patches and chewing gums were found to have the lowest therapeutic effectiveness. The research proved that in the long run NRT is no more effective when quitting than attempting to quit by oneself.

D.r Gilbert Ross (the American Council on Science and Health) warns against lobbying activities by pharmaceutical companies with regard to e-cigarettes: