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A "sick joke" - cancer survivor and doctor oppose tobacco takeover of healthcare firm



A LUNG doctor and a former North East smoker and cancer survivor are calling on the Government and shareholders to block a controversial tobacco takeover of a health firm which makes inhalers for conditions like asthma and COPD.


Sue Mountain joined charities like Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation to attack the proposed takeover of Vectura by Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro cigarette and called it a "sick joke."


Meanwhile respiratory consultant Dr Ruth Sharrock also warned the takeover could have an impact on prescribing choices across the medical community.


Sue, 56, a former smoker from South Tyneside, underwent laser treatment in 2012 after a biopsy revealed she had laryngeal cancer. The cancer returned in 2017 which required radiotherapy every day for four weeks.


She said: "If someone told me that a tobacco company which causes throat and lung cancer and COPD was going to take over a health firm which makes inhalers, I would think it was a sick joke.


"It would be obscene for PMI to profit from getting people addicted and keeping them smoking, and then profit even more from treating the very people they have made ill.


"It is clear those running Vectura don't know what it is like to undergo treatment for a smoking-related disease. If they did, I am not sure they would be so quick to jump into bed with a tobacco company which profits from addiction and misery. I really do now hope that the shareholders see sense and stop this.


"If the Government has any power to block this, it has a moral duty to do so. It is also high time tobacco companies should be made to pay a share of their profits towards addressing the harm they cause, instead of being allowed to make further gains."


Dr Ruth Sharrock is a Respiratory Consultant and Clinical Lead on Tobacco for the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System. She said: "The medical community is extremely wary of tobacco companies. They have no moral responsibility - profiteering from manufacturing a product that kills half of those people who use it.


"It would be a very ill advised move for shareholders to consider this offer as I anticipate it would cause a prompt and widespread effect on prescribing choices across the medical community."


She added: "I understand the teams that created the Vectura portfolio of research and product development were from an academic background and offer a valuable and credible contribution to the UK research landscape. Professional trust in their products and research will be lost if the tobacco industry become involved, and the competitiveness of the inhaled product market will allow us many other prescribing choices that feel less morally tarnished.


"Governmental policy makers need to urgently consider whether they will allow a company to have a vested interest in continuing to cause a huge burden of health problems by also profiteering from the treatments for some of those."


As well as now urging shareholders to reject it, charities Cancer Research UK, Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation, and Action on Smoking and Health have written to Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, and Sajid Javid, the health secretary, calling on the government to block the deal.


Vectura Group plc and its subsidiaries is a product development company that focuses on the development of pharmaceutical therapies for the treatment of airway-related diseases. This market includes asthma, which is made worse by tobacco smoke, especially among children exposed, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is caused by smoking in the majority of cases.


The British Lung Foundation estimates that 1.2 million people are living with diagnosed COPD, with a higher proportion of people diagnosed with COPD in Scotland, the North East and North West of England. Around 115,000 people are diagnosed with COPD each year.


Along with lung cancer and pneumonia, COPD is one of the three leading contributors to respiratory deaths in developed countries such as the UK.


Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, said: "My own father died from smoking-related COPD – the thought of a tobacco company profiting from the cigarettes that make people ill and then charging the NHS for the medicines to treat them stinks of hypocrisy and greed."