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LCA Comments on NY Times Article on Lung Cancer Sceening Trial

March 26, 2008---Today the New York Times ran an article “exposing” a donation made in 2000 by the Vector Group, which owns Liggett, to the International Early Lung Cancer Action Program (I-ELCAP) screening study and insinuated that the research and researchers were tainted.

Sadly, this is far from the truth and another attempt to discredit I-ELCAP and lung cancer screening in general. Why else raise this now? The donation was made 8 years ago, was publicly reported and was an unrestricted gift that allowed for no control by the donor.

View the news reports regarding the gift:
USA Today Press Release 2000 (.pdf)
Business Wire Press Release 2000 (.pdf)
Business Week 2001

LCA President and CEO, Laurie Fenton Ambrose responded to the NY Times reporter with a written letter (below).  We will not let those who want to deny the lung cancer community the benefits they deserve defeat our efforts.

Weill Cornell Medical College has issued its statement on this matter.  I-ELCAP researchers will be releasing their statement shortly.

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Gardiner Harris

March 24, 2008

New York Times

Dear Gardiner,

Last week you asked me why we were concerned about a researcher taking money from tobacco companies for “giving an opinion” in a lawsuit involving screening and not concerned about tobacco money being used for independent research on screening.

Let me reiterate my response. There is an enormous difference.

Tobacco companies do not pay for testimony unless it would be advantageous to them. Tobacco companies have a long and sordid history of manipulating science and research, as well as scientists, researchers and doctors, to protect their interests. In this case, they got what they paid for. The testimony was not unbiased. The witness is highly critical of screening which is described as “reckless” and “may kill a lot more than lung cancer will”.

The witness testified for and received payments from the three largest tobacco companies in a deposition in 2000 and in open court in 2003, during which time frame this same witness was receiving federal funding to design and run a $225,000,000 trial on the efficacy of CT screening. Testifying for either side in the lawsuit would be inappropriate. Testifying on behalf of big tobacco companies and receiving payment from big tobacco for doing so, is an outrageous abuse of the witness’s federally financed position as arbiter in a screening trial whose outcome could be the determining factor in screening liability suits not just in the US but around the world.

The distinction between that activity and the Cornell Weill research gift is wonderfully clear. In 1997, Liggett publicly admitted they and all the tobacco companies had known but covered up that smoking caused lung cancer.  The breaking of ranks and release of key documents led to the $250 billion Master Settlement Agreement that has funded, among many things, many cancer and disease research programs around the country.  Are you questioning these tobacco funded research programs as well?

In 2000, Vector Ltd., whose holdings included Liggett, publicly announced a $2.4 million unrestricted gift for lung cancer screening research.  This was openly discussed at meetings, advocated for by LCA’s management and was widely reported in the media.  It is my understanding that it was given to a foundation within Cornell Weill, the only consortia at that time doing early detection research, to help advance screening research at institutions around the world.  And it was set up to prevent big tobacco from controlling or manipulating this research to their advantage.  At this time, many in the public health field were calling for penalty payments from big tobacco in an attempt to right the human tragedy and social costs brought about by big tobacco’s conduct.    

Indeed, this has been LCA’s long held position as reinforced as recently as 2005 when we filed our Amicus Brief before the US Court of Appeals asking that, in addition to the prevention and cessation remedies sought by the federal government and other public health interveners, that penalty payments to fund independent research for early detection and better treatments also be included as a remedy. LCA’s long held position is that big tobacco’s deceitful marketing and cover-up of tobacco’s harms has lead directly to the underfunding of lung cancer research.  Is seeking these and other penalty payments to advance research to help victims then wrong?

Lastly, I continue to be concerned that lost in these various questions and comments is any understanding of the public health epidemic upon us. Lung cancer is the most lethal of all cancers – killing more people than breast, prostate, colon, liver , kidney and melanoma cancers combined – 85% of which are current and former smokers – most of whom will die within a year of diagnosis because their cancers are found too late. We can help those at high risk for lung cancer today through the use of CT scans – and we stand proudly with those in the public health community who view lung cancer as a disease deserving of increased compassion and support.         

Laurie Fenton-Ambrose

President and CEO
Lung Cancer Alliance