Japan Tobaccoâ€™s Dilemma: Life or Death?
Japan Tobacco (JT), the worldâ€™s third largest tobacco company, has purchased the rights to vaccines now under development to prevent and treat certain cancers, including lung cancer, according to the Oct. 23 British journal, The Lancet. JT is partially
The background leading up to this investment decision is a bit complex, but reveals much about the inner workings of Japanâ€™s version of big tobacco. Since they bought out the worldwide (non-United States) business of R J Reynolds, makers of Camel and Winston cigarettes, JT has become a major player in the international tobacco business. JT now sells 250 billion cigarettes annually, recording revenues of $32 billion.
JT recently bought an entire pharmaceutical company, whose sole purpose will be to market JTâ€™s drug products without using the tobacco giantâ€™s name. JTâ€™s executives realize that many physicians and pharmacists would have a major problem purveying medicines under the brand name Japan Tobacco.
So it came as something of a surprise when JT announced that their pharmaceutical division had acquired the rights to several anti-cancer vaccines under development by two separate American biotech companies. These rights include those to both therapeutic (treatment-related) and preventive vaccines hoped to prove effective against lung cancer.
The company remains a dinosaur, even by tobacco industry standards. JT spokesman Mr. Mizuguchi, still asserts that lung cancer is associated with many factors. Cause and effect between smoking and lung cancer has not been proved pathologically. This language is similar to that used by U.S. tobacco companies in response to the 1964 Surgeon Generalâ€™s Report.
But the JT vaccine purchase still comes as a shock. With such a huge number of JT cigarettes sold annually, and the wealth of scientific and medical data linking smoking and lung cancer dating back 45 years, itâ€™s a safe bet that many thousands of JTâ€™s customers will contract this deadly disease from their smoking habit.
The acquisition of the vaccine rights puts JT in the morally awkward, but financially rewarding position of marketing both a cause and a potential cure for the same disease -- lung cancer. The fact that they would reap tremendous profits from both sides of the disease spectrum is a dilemma which may occupy medical ethicists for a long time to come.