Doctors who support tobacco companies and get paid for it (#1)

There are medical doctors and scientists out there, believe it or not, who support the tobacco industry and have been paid handsomely for it. In this post I’m going to tell you about one of them, and in subsequent posts I’ll cover more of them.

How can a doctor seriously and ethically stand up in a court of law and support a company whose products cause so much socio-medical harm, from heart disease to lung cancer to child labour in tobacco fields? What happened to that fundamental tenet of the Hippocratic Oath, that a doctor should “DO NO HARM?” If we knowingly support this harmful industry, which full well knows the dangerous nature of its products, are we not fostering harm to its victims (smokers)?

In the mid-1990s, Dr C.Robert Cloninger, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, USA, went into court and testified on behalf of tobacco companies that nicotine, in his opinion, is “not addictive,” and he even ventured to say that smokers use addiction “as an excuse” for not quitting. This was, indeed, his personal opinion, and not that of almost all other experts; and the evidence that nicotine is addictive was overwhelming then and still is. But he and a handful of others were paid a huge bonus by tobacco companies, who found a small handful of “credible” experts to support their disease-causing products.

In a previous post ( I mentioned the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, a database of tobacco company documents that are freely accessible to anyone, thanks to previous litigation against the tobacco industry. If you search this online libary with the appropriate terms, you’ll find details of court proceedings in which Dr C. Robert Cloninger was an “expert witness” for the tobacco industry.

You can also find, again with appropriate search terms, invoices from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, USA, asking for a particular tobacco company to “Make check to Washington University Department of Psychiatry; mail c/o Dr. C. Robert Cloninger.” I found such two documents in the Legacy Library, one for $250/ hour consultation fees and $2000 for 6 hours trial testimony, totalling $18,000, and another invoice for $15,300.

The points that Dr C. Robert Cloninger were not getting, I presume, were that, regardless of his academic expertise and his hypotheses about nicotine, most smokers have a terrible problem quitting, and that tobacco companies are, regardless of his ideas, promoting and selling death and disease worldwide.

But don’t simply listen to almost all experts in nicotine and tobacco research, or to the doctors who see smokers in their office daily….ask the smokers who are desperate to quit if they think cigarettes are addictive!!

Another search of the Legacy Library led me to numerous letters sent from smokers who begged the tobacco companies to help them quit. Many were disturbingly desperate. They had tried to quit in so many ways, without success, so they turned to the companies that made them addicted in the first place and begged them- as a last resort- to help them quit smoking.

Unsurprisingly, in most cases that I found, there was no evidence that the tobacco companies replied to these poor, unfortunate, helpless human beings. The letters are haunting cries for help from the past, but the victims were helpless, and it was cruelly futile for them: what did the tobacco companies care? They really didn’t. And they don’t care now.

Here are excerpts from two letters, out of many, that I have taken from the Legacy Library, from tobacco addicts pleading for help to quit smoking.

“To whom it may concern:
I am writing to ask for assistance in solving a problem I have.
Presently I’m addicted to smoking and nicotine….

Attempts at giving up smoking thru the years have failed….

Do you have any programs, assistance,
advise or any products that could help me in giving up smoking?…

I ask for you to work with me and return the favor
by assisting with my problem.

Yours Truly…”

I am desperately and hopelessly addicted to cigarettes . I know I’ll be
dead soon……I have difficulty breathing or doing
any physical activity. The coughing and chest pain are excruciating.
I’ve tried to quit countless times…..

I beg you to please help me…..By the time I was 16, I was smoking over two
packs a day……way back then, it was advertised to be the
“cool, manly thing to do.”……

I don’t understand this addiction; all I’m asking for is help…. I feel so helpless. I am hoping you will…..offer some direction ..and…help.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours…..”

Dr C. Robert Cloninger is currently the Wallace Renard Professor of Psychiatry, Genetics and Psychology at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, USA. He is also Director of the “Sansone Family Center for Well-Being” there. My question is: What about the well-being of the smokers who die at a rate of one every six seconds from the world’s most prevalent cause of preventable death: yes, the addictive and highly toxic, tobacco?


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