“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

— William Wilberforce

Front Page » Business » Industry » Industry-Sponsored Research: Parallels Between the Vaccine and Tobacco Industry
Text size:

Industry-Sponsored Research: Parallels Between the Vaccine and Tobacco Industry

burning cigarette

Tobacco companies strategically featured doctors in their advertisement campaigns to assure consumers that their products were safe.

Industry-sponsored research has become the norm in the United States. In fact, most U.S. clinical trials within the fields of science and medicine, notably within the pharmaceutical sector, are now funded by industry.1 2 3 4 This has created a plethora of opportunities for funders to create data to fit their business agenda, thus creating a dilemma articulated in American author Upton Sinclair’s theorem, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary is dependent upon him not understanding it.”5

The implications of industry-sponsored research, particularly in the area vaccine safety, are of growing concern. The concern is reasonable, given the major ramifications of industry-sponsored research in other industries, such as tobacco.

Both the tobacco and vaccine industries appear to share commonalities in leveraging their products—using industry-sponsored funding to influence scientific discourse and to deny, distort and downplay growing evidence that their products are ineffective and dangerous. The parallels between the dynamics of these two industries are glaring.

The Tobacco Industry’s Manipulation of Authority

In the 1930s and 1940s, smoking cigarettes became “the thing” to do among men and women in the U.S. Interestingly, many physicians smoked during this period as well. Tobacco companies strategically featured doctors in their print and broadcast advertising campaigns to assure consumers that their products were safe.6

It was during this time of widespread tobacco advertising and use that research studies were published showing a statistical link between smoking and lung cancer.7 This raised public anxiety over the health risks associated with smoking. Nevertheless, the industry continued to use physicians as reassuring authority figures to sell their products.6

A review in the American Journal of Public Health perfectly describes the use of physicians as sales ploys.6

The authors state:

In retrospect, these advertisements are a powerful reminder of the cultural authority physicians and medicine held in American society during the mid-20th century, and the manner in which tobacco executives aligned their product with that authority.6

This marketing strategy still holds true in the U.S. today. The drug industry has aligned vaccines with medical doctors and enlisted them to act as their allies by placing them in a perceived position of absolute authority when it comes to assuring Americans that vaccines are absolutely safe and effective.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that most medical doctors are no experts on vaccine safety, just as they were no experts on tobacco safety.8

The Tobacco Industry’s Manipulation of Scientific Research

Industry influence on scientific research has been a powerful legacy of the tobacco industry. In fact, the tobacco industry invented the modern definition of “conflicts of interest” in the 1950s. Prior to that, there was a general public perception that scientific research was, for the most part, independent and separate from the financial interests of industry.9

By 1953, the tobacco industry was facing a PR crisis due to an increasing number of studies demonstrating a strong relationship between smoking and the dramatic increase in lung cancer.7 9 These findings were publicized in major peer reviewed medical journals, as well as featured in the media.9

As a result, the tobacco industry embarked on a completely different strategy.9 Allan Brandt, PhD, a professor of the History of Medicine at Harvard University, explains that “the tobacco industry would launch a new strategy, largely unprecedented in the history of U.S. industry and business: it would work to erode, confuse, and condemn the very science that now threatened to destroy its prized, highly popular, and exclusive product.”9

In other words, the industry decided that the most effective method to overcome this threat was to use its influence in managing the science that was undermining its existence. After all, the tobacco industry understood the power of influence and authority following its successful use of doctors and celebrities as endorsements for its products.9

Brandt further explains:

The tobacco industry’s program to engineer the science relating to the harms caused by cigarettes marked a watershed in the history of the industry. It moved aggressively into a new domain, the production of scientific knowledge, not for purposes of research and development but, rather, to undo what was now known: that cigarette smoking caused lethal disease. If science had historically been dedicated to the making of new facts, the industry campaign now sought to develop specific strategies to ‘unmake’ a scientific fact.9

The tobacco industry had no absolutely no interest in answering scientific questions. Their goal was to take control of research programs “to use science in the service of public relations.”9 The industry continued to deny that smoking caused cancer by maintaining the controversy.7

A report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) notes, “Publicly the companies’ overriding policy has been to argue that they are not qualified to comment on the health consequences of smoking, but when they do so to create confusion and ‘keep the controversy open.’” This has been done by, on the one hand denying the existing evidence, while on the other hand demanding absolute proof of causation and calling for more research.7

This research, much of which was covertly funded by the tobacco industry, is designed to look at other causes of cancer and to water down the evidence linking smoking and disease. For example, industry statements are peppered by fudging comments such as “no clinical evidence,” “no substantial evidence,” “no laboratory proof,” “unresolved,” and “still open.” Nothing has been “statistically proven,” “scientifically proven,” or “scientifically established.” There is no “scientific causality,” “conclusive proof,” or “scientific proof.”7

This sounds all too familiar.

We are currently witnessing the same type of rhetoric in the pharmaceutical industry, specifically with regard to vaccines. Vaccine manufacturers, which are shielded in the U.S. from civil liability for the safety of their products, are a powerful voice in government vaccine regulation and policy-making and heavily influence the direction of vaccine research. Given that vaccines are big business for the pharmaceutical industry, the tension between generating profits and studying the negative side effects of their products has created a huge financial conflict of interest.

Pharmaceutical sponsored research is deeply rooted within the medical system—from academia to public health agencies like NIH, CDC and FDA to doctors and other health care professionals administering vaccines. Pharma also massively influences the media coverage of stories about vaccine issues by paying print and broadcast news outlets in the U.S. to run advertisements marketing and promoting use of vaccines.

It is rare to see independent, objective data about vaccine safety being published today. Conflicts of interest in vaccine safety research is an urgent public health issue of great concern to Americans being pressured to use an increasing number of vaccines.

It is said that history is the greatest teacher. The tobacco industry offers a good historical lesson.


1 Cohn, M. Industry funds six times more clinical trials than feds, research shows. The Baltimore Sun Dec. 15, 2015.
Press Release. Industry-Financed Clinical Trials on the Rise, As Number of NIH-Funded Trials Falls. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Dec. 15, 2015.
Sarich C. Unsettling Truth: Most Clinical Trials Are Funded By Big Pharma. Natural Society Mar. 23, 2016.
4 Tereskerz PM, Hamric AB, Guterbock TM, Moreno JD. Prevalence of Industry Support and Its Relationship to Research Integrity. Accountability in Research 2009; 16(2): 78-105.
5 Upton Sinclair. New World Encyclopedia.
6 Gardner MN, Brandt AM. “The Doctors’ Choice Is America’s Choice”: The Physician in US Cigarette Advertisements, 1930–1953. American Journal of Public Health 2006; 96(2): 222-232.
7 European Environment Agency. Late Lessons from Early Warnings: Science, Precaution and Innovation. European Environment Agency Jan. 22, 2013.
8 Cáceres M. Doctors Are No Experts on Vaccines. The Vaccine Reaction Nov. 28, 2013.
9 Brandt AM. Inventing Conflicts of Interest: A History of Tobacco Industry TacticsAmerican Journal of Public Health 2012; 102(1): 63-71.

8 Responses to Industry-Sponsored Research: Parallels Between the Vaccine and Tobacco Industry

  1. Num Guy Reply

    August 24, 2016 at 8:30 am

    None of this is news!! The whole system is corrupt.

    CDC = Center for Deceit and Corruption
    FDA = Fraud and Death Administration.

    Our politicians are only interested in Big Pharma’s contributions.

  2. Velobwoy Reply

    August 24, 2016 at 9:24 am

    Oh, but to ask most people to relinquish such a tightly held cultural myth such as the authority of doctors? In exchange for using a critical thinking faculty that has been actively assaulted by our “educational” system since kindergarten? That’s akin to asking them to turn in their parents – just not going to happen.

  3. lin Reply

    August 24, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Difference is that the Tobacco companies never told you you had to Smoke. They never said Tobacco was good for you or that smoking protected you and your community from disease. Get a grip huh.

    You are a little confused and your bias takes away from your point. You get no sympathy from me.

    You should stick with the facts about Vaccinations. California now has a law that you MUST get vaccinated. Lets talk about the crap that exists in Vaccinations like other virus’s, bacteria, metals….stick to the facts pertaining to vax.

    Talk about the money Pharma makes and how the gov protects the vax companies from any law suite you or I may bring because of the damages that they often cause . Talk about the EBV contained in the Polio vaccination of the late 1950’s.

    Be truthful and stick to the fine points. Okay?

    • John B Reply

      August 24, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Lin you are confused. The author is clearly talking about the crazy conflicts of interest of industry funding research on their own product. You obviously don’t think that is a problem in the drug industry. Get up to speed!

    • g Reply

      August 24, 2016 at 12:02 pm

      Lin, sometimes the reason that we don’t learn the mistakes from history is because the issues are slightly different and we don’t see the parallels right away. John B is right, there is a relevant lesson to be learned here about industry funded research.

    • Mimi21 Reply

      August 28, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Lin, of course the tobacco companies are not going to tell you that you have to smoke; They only need to reply on the additive nicotine to draw you in. Fact: According to a report published by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, tobacco companies steadily increased the nicotine content of their cigarettes from 1998 to 2004, by approximately 10%.

  4. Num Guy Reply

    August 24, 2016 at 11:16 am

    The one and only way to defeat Big Pharma is to repeal the immunity they have enjoyed since 1986. This was granted to them by our corrupt Congress.

    Please google “repeal immunity for vaccine makers” and sign the petition on moveon. This has over 44,000 signatures but need many more to make a difference.

  5. Redpill1 Reply

    August 26, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    What are the facts about Vaccination? If you have some please share. Also I would like to ask you to answer a few questions with facts if you have them.

    -Please provide an independent double-blind, placebo-controlled study that can prove the safety and effectiveness of vaccines?

    -Please provide independent scientific evidence on ANY study which can confirm the long-term safety and effectiveness of vaccines?

    -Please provide independent scientific evidence which can prove that disease reduction in any part of the world, at any point in history was attributable to inoculation of populations?

    -Please provide scientific justification as to how injecting a human being with a confirmed neurotoxin is beneficial to human health and prevents disease?

    -Please provide independent scientific justification on how bypassing the respiratory tract (or mucous membrane) is advantageous and how directly injecting viruses into the bloodstream enhances immune functioning and prevents future infections?

    -Please provide independent scientific justification on how a vaccine would prevent viruses from mutating?

    Notice I requested INDEPENDENT studies & data because this article is about industry paid for studies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>