16th January 2018

Medical records of lung cancer patients handed to US firm with links to tobacco companies

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The medical records of almost 180,000 lung cancer patients has been provided to US firm, William E. Wecker, who is linked to one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies, the Daily Telegraph has revealed.

William E. Wecker submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act and, as a result every NHS lung cancer case in England from 2009 to 2013 was given out. However Dr. Jem Rashbass of Public Health England has stated “no sensitive or identifying patient information has been released”. It also assures that no patient names were provided.

Who is William E. Wecker?

William E. Wecker Associates Inc. is a statistical and applied mathematical consulting firm based in Wyoming, USA. It provide consulting services and sophisticated data analysis for corporate decision making, research and development, and expert testimony.

Tobacco giant, Philip Morris International, is listed on its website as one of its large commercial clients as well as other tobacco companies Altria Group, Lorillard, Japan Tobacco International and R. J. Reynolds.

Whilst this may not technically fall into the category of misuse, if it is used to support the tobacco industry, it is certainly not in our patients, and future patients, best interest.

Paula Chadwick, CEO at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

The website also boasts of its ‘established track record of creative and effective applications of statistical and mathematical analysis to questions arising in regulation and litigation’. This has prompted fears that the information attained could be used to fight smoking regulation and, thus, significantly impact the health of thousands, if not millions, of people worldwide.

Our chief executive, Paula Chadwick, comments:

“We are highly alarmed to hear that the personal details of lung cancer patients have been passed to a US firm working for one of the biggest tobacco companies.

As the only UK lung cancer charity, we work closely with people living with lung cancer and those who have sadly lost someone to it and we share the same aims – to see lung cancer survival rates increase, breakthroughs in new lung cancer treatments and, ultimately, a cure for lung cancer. That this information could now also be used for the commercial benefit of a company that has inflicted these circumstances is extremely distressing.

Lung cancer is a devastating disease, one that kills many and kills quickly and, regardless of Philip Morris’ frequent attempts to downplay the links between smoking and cancer, the links are now very clear. Smoking accounts for more than 1 in 4 UK cancer deaths, and nearly a fifth of all cancer cases.

We do not believe that Philip Morris is looking to achieve a healthier global population. We can’t see their interest being beyond achieving a healthier bank balance and whilst this may not technically fall into the category of misuse, if it is used to support the tobacco industry, it is certainly not in our patients, and future patients, best interest.”

Michele McMahon is living with lung cancer

Michele McMahon is one of our patient advocates. She shared her horror at the news. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph she said:

“I really believe in the importance of research. I want medical data to be used for positive reasons – to help people, to help find better treatments, and also find ways to make smoking less attractive to young people.

“If I had been asked, I would never have given permission for my data to be used by the tobacco industry. This is about our lives; these tobacco firms are all about making a profit.”