E-cigarettes: Mixing Research and Marketing

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In Italy, the lead scientist in a clinical trial on e-cigarettes (also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems, or ENDS) was involved in marketing the brand of e-cigarettes that he researched himself.

A clinical trial at the University of Catania in Italy and published in BMC Public Health (available on BioMedCentral) in October 2011 stated that e-cigarettes were more effective for smoking cessation and for reducing daily cigarette consumption than nicotine replacement therapy. This was one of the first pieces of evidence showing that e-cigarettes could help smokers quit. The results sparked discussion between people who believed in the benefits of e-cigarettes, and those who advocated for e-cigarette sales bans.

Mixed Interests

The lead researcher in this trial was Dr.(now Professor) Riccardo Polosa, MD, PhD, Director of the Institute for Internal Medicine and Clinical Immunology of the University of Catania in Italy. He was also in charge of the University Centre for Tobacco Research (CPCT) and Honorary Professor of Medicine at Southampton University in the UK. On top of his academic work, he held the post of director of Lega Italiana Anti Fumo (LIAF), the Italian Anti-Smoking League.

Image 1. Dr. Riccardo Polosa at the Catagoria e-cigarette website (Screengrab Oct 2011)

Image 2. E-cigarette Categoria website (screengrab Oct 2011)

The research into the e-cigarette was conducted at Polosa’s Centre for Tobacco Research in cooperation with the Italian Anti Smoking League. On closer inspection, the trial focused on just one brand of e-cigarettes: ‘Categoria’1 (see its website at picture 1 on the left). The results of the research featured on the front page of the Anti-Smoking League’s website.2

In addition, Dr. Polosa appeared on the Categoria brand website to endorse the e-cigarette (see Image 2)  andthe Anti Smoking League granted Categoria its seal of approval (Image 3).

Image 3. LIAF Approved, screengrab Oct 2011

So, as a director of the Italian Anti-Smoking League, Polosa promoted the e-cigarettes he researched at the University, while as a honorary professor of medicine he endorsed the e-cigarettes on the brand’s website. Polosa was open about his involvement with the producer of Categoria, the Arbi Group, and did not see it as a competing interest. In the journal that published his research, BMC Public Health, , he declared that “from February 2011, he has been serving as a consultant for Arbi Group Srl. Arbi Group Srl (Milano, Italy), the manufacturer of the e-Cigarette supplied the product, and unrestricted technical and customer support. They were not involved in the study design, running of the study or analysis and presentation of the data.”1

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  1. abR. Polosa et al, Effect of an Electronic Nicotine Delivery Device (e-Cigarette) on Smoking Reduction and Cessation: A Prospective 6-Month Pilot Study, BMC Public Health, 11 October 2011, accessed October 2011
  2. V. Nicolosi, , Le sigarette elettroniche aiutano a ridurre la dipendenza tabagica, LIAF website, 13 September 2011, accessed October 2011