Friday, November 5, 2010

Earlier this week leaders from six of the nation’s most respected public health organizations expressed concerns about a recommendation to “move the majority of all tobacco related research at the NIH into a proposed addiction institute…” In a letter to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, LEGACY and Partnership for Prevention stressed that the proposed move “poses considerable risks to the ongoing efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to reduce tobacco use.”

The November 2nd letter was sent in response to recommendations of the NIH’s Scientific Management Review Board which recommended the merger of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Historically, leadership on tobacco research has been championed by the National Cancer Institute and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Additionally, neither NIAAA nor NIDA have a significant tobacco research portfolio. The proposed merger of NIAAA and NIDA did not specifically assess the scientific value of transferring the tobacco research portfolios that have driven much of the our nation’s successful policy work and cessation advances over the past thirty years. The letter notes that transfer of tobacco research from NCI and NHLBI to a new entity generally unfamiliar with tobacco science will “create uncertainly about future funding for tobacco-related research…(i)t would also convey the impression … that the NIH considers the tobacco problem solved or that it is now less important to NIH.”

These leaders make a thoughtful and compelling case that removal of tobacco research from the protection and guidance of NCI and NHLBI is premature. In the absence of carefully study, such a move potentially endangers the nation’s continued progress to reduce tobacco use and help the Food and Drug Administration develop and execute a research agenda that will support its life saving regulatory mandates. This issue could have a profoundly negative impact on the quality and relevance of the excellent tobacco work currently underway in NIH’s flagship institutes.

The letter urges Dr. Collins to “postpone any action to include tobacco-related research in the proposed new institute” and to “initiate a review of (NIH’s) current tobacco research portfolio and determine what additional research is necessary to fully support the Administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco use. Such a review would also help inform your decision about whether a reorganization of tobacco research is appropriate.”

There is an old wisdom ... “if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.” Tobacco continues to represent the nation’s leading cause of premature death and preventable illness. We have made remarkable progress in the decades since Surgeon General Luther Terry alerted the nation to the adverse health effects of smoking. Now is not the time to endanger continued progress in the vital public health work that NCI and NHLBI led tobacco research has supported over the decades. Requesting a thorough study of this issue seems a reasonable course of action for Dr. Collins to endorse.

E Ripley Forbes
Director, Government Affairs


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