Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lung cancer, who cares? Tobacco company funded research shows it isn't much of a problem

Last year I cited some studies by Claudia Hensche which suggested that 80% of lung cancer deaths could be avoided through use of CT scans. I suggested in an update that these studies might be overoptimistic because there were far too many false positives and in any event fast-growing tumors are likely to occur between scans.

The problems with the Hensche work might even be much worse than that - in fact sickeningly worse. The Hensche studies it turns out were financed, via a foundation, by a tobacco company (The Liggett Group) who, it is now claimed, were interested in promoting research which minimised the possible costs of contracting lung cancer.
"Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine and the author of a book about conflicts of interest, said he believed that Weill Cornell [the institute where Hensche works] had created the foundation to hide its receipt of money from a cigarette company. “You have to ask yourself the question, ‘Why did the tobacco company want to support her research?’ ” Dr. Kassirer said. “They want to show that lung cancer is not so bad as everybody thinks because screening can save people; and that’s outrageous".
If these claims are true they are among the most disgraceful I have come across in the literature that deals with the lack of corporate morality by the tobacco companies. I draw attention to some points in an earlier post I made on related issues. Big tobacco it seems have ruthlessly sought to distort the research agenda to provide a biased picture of the damages that cigarette smoking can cause. This report suggests they are continuing these disgraceful efforts.


Anonymous said...

"Big tobacco it seems have ruthlessly sought to distort the research agenda to provide a biased picture opf the damages that cigarette smoking can cause."

Gee Harry, next thing you'll be telling us, is that the Pope's a Catholic.

There's a university in the US, quite a good one, in one of the southern tobacco growing states (North or South Carolina I think) whose medical school gets money from one of the tobacco companies. Every year they make their medical students sit through a talk by a spokesman from the company on how smoking isn't bad for your health.

I'm not making this up.


derrida derider said...

You know, Harry, lefties have a point when they say that our society is far too influenced by the interests of large corporations who are responsible to no-one but their managers and (rather indirectly) shareholders, and that this really hurts our democracies. Of course what you do about it is another matter - many suggested cures are worse than the disease.

No-one should be surprised at this behaviour; it's exactly the same as the greenhouse mafia's is when their interests are threatened. The difference is that corporate-sponsored AGW denialism is going to cost many more lives than tobacco companies ever managed.

Anonymous said...

Not too sure of the details. However if tobacco companies are using tobacco money to help reduce the impact of tobacco smoking by funding research that helps develop a cure or cures for lung cancer then this seems like a good thing. The alternative uses for the money would seem to be more advertising to promote more tobacco sales or a payout to the shareholders. Finding a cure for lung cancer would seem like a good thing. In the AGW debate it would be like a coal company investing in research for geosequestration. Most businesses are looking for ways to reduce the cost of their product. With tobacco a significant part of the cost for the consumer is health related.

Of course what you might be saying is that their research funding is not aimed at finding a cure for lung cancer but rather at muddying the waters. In which case it is a PR exercise and not medical research at all, and I'd then agree that it is disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Tell us, Terje, which one you think is more likely.


Anonymous said...

Oh bullshit Spiros, you're so gullible.


If this research showed that lung cancer screened early enough saved and/or prolonged lives why is it so bad?

I really don't get why you think it’s so diabolical.

hc said...

Further comment,

The use of CAT scans offered real hope to people who have smoked all their life that they may escape the terrible fate of lung cancer.

Many pressure groups in the US are pushing for use of such scans. Unfortunately the case as I suggest in the post for using them is weak. I wish it wasn't true.

I hope it is true that Liggett are trying to support measures to address one of the major causes of death associated with smoking. But that is not clear since the technology is suspect - the main effect of introducing a false promise here would be to wrongly encourage people to continue smoking.

If the company sincerely wanted to limit the incidence of smoking it should stop producing a product that when used as intended kills about half its users.

Anonymous said...


You’re letting your personal hatred of smoking get in the way.

I have read that lung cancer if detected early, that is before it sprouts out of the spongy tissue, can be treated and would prolong lives.

The most recent CAT scans are able to image at 64 bits which is quite a remarkable achievement as now they can also image the exact point of blockage in arteries according to my doctor recently. This wasn’t available a short while ago.

You’re making the same mistake every lefty makes, Harry. You’re questioning the motive despite the evidence that the motive maybe quite sincere. In fact one doesn’t have to even question the motive, as funding for this sort of research is terrific especially if it helps prolong lives.

Ask yourself, we would be better off is this research hadn’t been funded. Furthermore if the work is faulty we would know soon enough anyway with little harm or damage done to anyone seeing lung cancer is a very poor prognosis.

Don’t be like the lefties Harry and judge by what you think is motivating the research. It’s the results that count..

Anonymous said...

Many pressure groups in the US are pushing for use of such scans. Unfortunately the case as I suggest in the post for using them is weak. I wish it wasn't true.

How old is thgat research? I ask because imaging centres are getting sotfware updates and better imaging add on almsot every other week.

I think your finding may be out of date, even by a year.

Anonymous said...

Last two comments were mine Sorry


Francis Xavier Holden said...

Whilst imaging software (and hardware) is getting better and providing more detail - it's not clear at all that this translates into better diagnosis and /or treatment.

harry - big tobacco (is there any small tobacco?) doesnt ever surprise in it's efforts both overt and covert to muddy the waters but the Weill Cornell needs to sharpen up its act a bit in the ethics department.

DD - any chance you could email me?

Anonymous said...

dd - i just wanted to give you some info -

Francis Xavier Holden said...

harry - I'm off to Beijing and Taiwan next week for a month. Ciggies are about au$2 a pack - so I'll be buying a pack of Indonesion clove cigarettes and indulging for a few drags.

You'll be pleased to know in Taiwan there is "Long Life" brand cigarettes, now they just have to be good for you, and "Smooth" brand and "Gentle" brand.

"In 2005, the Taiwanese government passed a law increasing the Health and Welfare Tax from NT$5 [au$.0.20c] per pack to NT$10 per pack. The tax is added directly at the time of purchase, and took effect in February 2006. The implementation had little impact upon overall cigarette sales, either in terms of volume sales or brand share distribution.

The pressure of increased prices, combined with Taiwan's economic downturn, forced many multinationals to apply a second round of cigarette price increases in the second half of 2006. Despite cigarettes in Taiwan continuing to be relatively cheap when compared with many other developed countries around the world, regardless of price band, the price increases led to more demand for economy brands."

"The effect of Taiwan's tax-induced increases in cigarette prices on brand-switching and the consumption of cigarettes"

Francis Xavier Holden said...


TED CHEN Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, CHIH-CHENG HSU National Health Research Institute, Taipei, Taiwan, HSUEH-YUEN CHI Taiwan National Department of Health, Taipei

Abstract: An historical review of the evolvement of tobacco control policies and strategies in Taiwan is presented. The role of the U.S. government and international tobacco firms in obstructing change and promoting smoking for profit is discussed and the battle with its anti-tobacco opponents (primarily the John Tung Foundation), public health authorities, and the Asian Pacific Association for the Control of Tobacco (APACT) are highlighted. The political constraints for Taiwan in not being a member of the United Nations and the effect on the evolvement of its strong anti-tobacco efforts are explored in detail in this case study.

Yobbo said...


Don't forget the numerous Chinese brands of cigarettes that boast "Genuine Asbestos Filters". They just HAVE to be good for you :D