‘To Prove This is the Industry's Best Hope’: Big Tobacco's Support of Research on the Genetics of Nicotine Addiction

Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.
Addiction (Impact Factor: 4.74). 06/2010; 105(6):974-83. DOI: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02940.x
Source: PubMed


New molecular techniques focus a genetic lens upon nicotine addiction. Given the medical and economic costs associated with smoking, innovative approaches to smoking cessation and prevention must be pursued; but can sound research be manipulated by the tobacco industry?
The chronological narrative of this paper was created using iterative reviews of primary sources (the Legacy Tobacco Documents), supplemented with secondary literature to provide a broader context. The empirical data inform an ethics and policy analysis of tobacco industry-funded research.
The search for a genetic basis for smoking is consistent with industry's decades-long plan to deflect responsibility away from the tobacco companies and onto individuals' genetic constitutions. Internal documents reveal long-standing support for genetic research as a strategy to relieve the tobacco industry of its legal responsibility for tobacco-related disease.
Industry may turn the findings of genetics to its own ends, changing strategy from creating a 'safe' cigarette to defining a 'safe' smoker.

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Available from: Kenneth Gundle, Jul 16, 2014
    • "The media's emphasis on pharmaceuticals and population screening for genetic markers over traditional public health approaches and behavioral treatment could have negative consequences. For instance, in the case of nicotine addiction, focusing on the genetics of addiction locates responsibility for addiction within individual bodies, instead of on wider social influences, such as a tobacco industry that has intentionally manipulated and aggressively promoted cigarettes (Brandt, 2007; Gundle, Dingel, & Koenig, 2010). Unwarranted media claims about future applications of genetic findings may shift attention away from tobacco control efforts, such as exerting pressure on the tobacco industry, restricting tobacco promotion and sales, and implementing smoking restrictions and tax increases on products, and toward the idea that we soon may be able to prevent substance use by screening for genetic markers, vaccinating the public or eliminating harmful genes through direct manipulation of the human genome. "
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    ABSTRACT: The cost of addiction in the United States, in combination with a host of new tools and techniques, has fueled an explosion of genetic research on addiction. Because the media has the capacity to reflect and influence public perception, there is a need to examine how treatments and preventive approaches projected to emerge from addiction genetic research are presented to the public. The authors conducted a textual analysis of 145 news articles reporting on genetic research on addiction from popular print media in the United States and from popular news and medical internet sites. In articles that report on prevention, the media emphasize vaccine development and identifying individuals at genetic risk through population screening. Articles that emphasize treatment often promote current pharmaceutical solutions and highlight the possibility of tailoring treatments to specific genetic variants. The authors raise concerns about the tendency of this coverage to focus on the benefits of pharmaceutical treatments and genetic-based approaches to prevention while neglecting or downplaying potential risks and ethical issues. This analysis suggests a need for more balanced, evidence-based media reporting on the potential outcomes of genetic research.
    No preview · Article · Mar 2015 · Journal of Health Communication
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    • "The data are from a large study exploring the geneticization - viewing diseases, conditions, and behaviors as being determined all or in part by genetic factors - of addiction.[21], [22], [23], [24] The broader study captures the views of addiction patients as well as scientists' thoughts on the definition of addiction phenotypes and etiology. We examined scientist perspectives on the topic of translation because they are important stakeholders who possess a deep understanding of the science and its potential applications. "
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    ABSTRACT: To explore scientists' perspectives on the challenges and pressures of translating research findings into clinical practice and public health policy. We conducted semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of 20 leading scientists engaged in genetic research on addiction. We asked participants for their views on how their own research translates, how genetic research addresses addiction as a public health problem and how it may affect the public's view of addiction. Most scientists described a direct translational route for their research, positing that their research will have significant societal benefits, leading to advances in treatment and novel prevention strategies. However, scientists also pointed to the inherent pressures they feel to quickly translate their research findings into actual clinical or public health use. They stressed the importance of allowing the scientific process to play out, voicing ambivalence about the recent push to speed translation. High expectations have been raised that biomedical science will lead to new prevention and treatment modalities, exerting pressure on scientists. Our data suggest that scientists feel caught in the push for immediate applications. This overemphasis on rapid translation can lead to technologies and applications being rushed into use without critical evaluation of ethical, policy, and social implications, and without balancing their value compared to public health policies and interventions currently in place.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2014 · PLoS ONE
    • "Some argued that individual susceptibility to excess tobacco consumption was a question of constitution. This manifested itself in the so-called ‘constitutional hypothesis’ (Gundle et al. 2010: 975). As described by Dr Leo Katz, Professor of Statistics at Michigan State University, the constitutional hypothesis, ‘treats the individual as almost unique among all possible individuals’ (Katz 1969: 863). "
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    ABSTRACT: Since the rise of concern about the relationship between smoking and health in the 1950s and 1960s, the tobacco industry has emphasised notions of individual choice to negate the arguments of the public health sector and legitimatise the industry's presence in the marketplace. Central to this notion of individual choice has been the idea that the control of tobacco consumption (including quitting) is a function of will-power and that smokers can quit if they really want to. This article examines the way will-power developed as the centrepiece of debates about smoking consumption and cessation in the 1950s and 1960s.
    No preview · Article · Apr 2013 · Sociology of Health & Illness
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