E-cigarettes: Mixing Research and Marketing

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In Italy, the lead scientist in a clinical trial on e-cigarettes was involved in marketing the brand of e-cigarettes that he researched himself.

A clinical trial at the University of Catania in Italy and published in BioMedCentral claimed that e-cigarettes are more effective for smoking cessation and for reducing daily cigarette consumption than nicotine replacement therapy. This was one of the first pieces of evidence showing that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit. The results sparked discussion between people who believe in the benefits of e-cigarettes, and those who advocate e-cigarette sales bans, as is explained on the page E-cigarettes.

Mixed Interests

The lead researcher in this trial was Dr. Riccardo Polosa, MD, PhD, Director of the Institute for Internal Medicine and Clinical Immunology of the University of Catania in Italy. He is also in charge of the University Centre for Tobacco Research (CPCT) and Honorary Professor of Medicine at Southampton University in the UK. On top of his academic work, he holds the post of director of Lega Italiana Anti Fumo (LIAF), the Italian Anti-Smoking League.

2. Dr. Riccardo Polosa at the Catagoria e-cigarette websiteScreengrab Oct 2011

The research into the e-cigarette was conducted at Polosa's Centre for Tobacco Research in cooperation with the Italian Anti Smoking League. On closer inspection, the trial focused on just one brand of e-cigarettes: ‘Categoria’[1] (see its website at picture 1 on the left). The results of the research featured on the front page of the Anti-Smoking League's website.[2]

Moreover, Dr. Polosa appeared on the Categoria brand website to endorse the e-cigarette (see screenshot in picture 2 above) - and third, the Anti Smoking League granted Categoria its seal of approval (Picture 3).

3. LIAF Approved, screengrab Oct 2011

So, as a director of the Italian Anti-Smoking League, Polosa promoted the e-cigarettes he researched at the University, while as a honorary professor of medicine he endorsed the e-cigarettes on the brand's website. Polosa is open about his involvement with the producer of Categoria, the Arbi Group, and did not see it as a competing interest. In the journal that published his research, BioMedCentral, he declared that "from February 2011, he has been serving as a consultant for Arbi Group Srl. Arbi Group Srl (Milano, Italy), the manufacturer of the e-Cigarette supplied the product, and unrestricted technical and customer support. They were not involved in the study design, running of the study or analysis and presentation of the data."[1]


Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 R. Polosa et al, Effect of an Electronic Nicotine Delivery Device (e-Cigarette) on Smoking Reduction and Cessation: A Prospective 6-Month Pilot Study, BMC Public Health, 11 October 2011, accessed October 2011
  2. LIAF website, Le sigarette elettroniche aiutano a ridurre la dipendenza tabagica, accessed October 2011