Japan tobacco tries to profit from smoking and cancer – controls rights to future lung cancer treatments based on genetic patents

Monday 12 November 2001

ASH release

12 November 2001 immediate


Japan tobacco tries toprofit from smoking and cancer – controls rights to future lung cancertreatments based on genetic patents


An international tobacco company is planning to profit from lung cancer, it has emerged today [1].


A new report by the genetic policy research group, Gene Watch, reveals that Japan Tobacco International – the owner of Mild Seven and the Camel and Winston brands outside the US -has bought the right to develop vaccines and treatments for lung cancer based on genetic patents owned by Corixa Corporation – a biotech company. See Gene Watch report [2] and press release [3].


ASH condemned the deal, claiming that it marks “a new frontier in cynicism and greed” even for the tobacco industry.  Clive Bates, Director of ASH, said:


“It’s the remorseless and hideous logic of the tobacco business at work – if your customers are going down with terminal cancer, you might as well try to make some money from their suffering once you’ve sold them a lifetime supply of cigarettes.  It’s a kind of vertical integration of smoking and cancer, all in the name of profit.”


What’s wrong with a tobacco company wanting to be involved in dealing with the consequences of its product?  ASH highlighted Japan Tobacco’s role in blocking measures aimed at reducing smoking.  Japan Tobacco is bringing a legal challenge to European Directive (2001/37/EC), which bans descriptors such as ‘light’ because they are misleading. It is also promoting voluntary marketing restrictions focused primarily on young people – an approach certain to fail and pure public relations aimed at improving their image and avoiding meaningful regulation.  Clive Bates added:


“There is already a simple cure for lung cancer – just quit smoking early enough or never start.   The trouble is that tobacco industry does just about everything possible to derail effective measures to reduce smoking.What kind of sick minds think its better to cause lung cancer then profit from its treatment than to prevent it by reducing smoking?”


The deal raises ethical issues and concerns about the trade in rights to genetic information.


“I can’t believe that the people who consented to give samples of lung tissue for research would want the results controlled by a tobacco company” said Bates “this shows how money speaks louder than ethics and there couldn’t be a clearer case for controls on who owns genetic information and what they can do with it.”


Dr. Helen Wallace, Gene Watch  +44 (0)1298 871898 (w) +44(0)7903 311584 (m).

Clive Bates, ASH, +44 (0)20 7739 5902 (w) +44 (0)77 68791237 (m)

[1] The Guardian 12/11/2001 http://www.guardian.co.uk/smoking/Story/0,2763,591965,00.html

[2] Gene Watch report www.ash.org.uk/html/conduct/pdfs/genewatchjti.pdf

[3] Gene Watch press release www.ash.org.uk/html/press/011112.html

Genewatch web site www.genewatch.org