Medicines Australia responds below to a recent article, published by Croakey and the Crikey bulletin, which investigated the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing lobby group which opposes Australia’s introduction of plain packaging of cigarettes, and whose members include pharmaceutical and tobacco companies.

Dr Brendan Shaw, Chief Executive of Medicines Australia, writes:

Wednesday’s article under the headline “What have the tobacco and pharma industries got in common?” completely misrepresented the pharmaceutical industry’s attitude towards plain packaging of tobacco products and to smoking more broadly.

This misrepresentation was grounded in the assumption that companies supporting a lobby organisation – in this case the American Legislative Exchange Council – are obliged to support every policy position taken by that group.

ALEC’s advocacy platform spans myriad policy issues covering many sectors and it is unlikely that every one of its members supports every one of its policy positions.

Certainly, the suggestion that a healthcare industry such as the medicines industry is opposed to a public policy measure that will encourage consumers to stop smoking is counter-intuitive, inherently contradictory and patently wrong.

In fact, two of Australia’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturers laid out very clearly their position on this issue in Wednesday’s article and are quoted:

“Pfizer fully supports plain packaging in the spirit of preventing future generations of smokers.”

And GSK said: “If ALEC is lobbying the Australian government as you have suggested, they are not doing this on behalf of GSK and we do not support it.”

Furthermore, GSK has a statement posted on the homepage of its website which reads, in part: “We absolutely do not endorse or support the views of organisations that campaign on behalf of the tobacco industry against anti-smoking measures.”

These two companies could hardly have made their position clearer and the suggestion in the article that they have a different position is disingenuous. For the record, Medicines Australia supports the Australian Government’s legislation to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products and has no issue with it.

The business of the pharmaceutical industry is to develop medicines and vaccines that save lives, reduce pain and prevent disease. If companies were to depart from this ethos, the commercial basis for their existence and their value proposition to the community would disintegrate.

Companies invest billions of dollars in medical research to develop smoking cessation medicines that are designed to help smokers quit.

So the conspiracy theorists have it very wrong. Two of Australia’s leading medicines companies indicated in Wednesday’s Croakey article that they support plain packaging of tobacco products.

The suggestion that pharmaceutical companies would deliberately promote smoking to boost sales of smoking cessation medicines is ridiculous and, frankly, insulting to all those people working in those companies who invest their time and energy every day in improving peoples’ health.

Medicines Australia supports plain packaging of tobacco products because it will discourage people from smoking, reduce smoking rates at a population level, improve health outcomes and ultimately save lives. And that’s the business we’re in. I can’t put it plainer than that.

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