BMJ Open has retracted a paper describing a study in which people with diabetes will be switched from cigarettes to vaping after the journal learned – late in the process of publication – that the authors were indirectly funded by the tobacco company, Philip Morris International.
The paper, “International randomised controlled trial evaluating metabolic syndrome in type 2 diabetic cigarette smokers following switching to combustion-free nicotine delivery systems: the DIASMOKE protocol,” was originally published on April 1, 2021. Its retraction notice, dated June 20, 2023, reads:
This article has been retracted by the journal and publisher following a post-publication review of the funding source. This paper is in breach of BMJ Open’s policy not to publish research that has been funded by the tobacco industry, and therefore we have retracted this paper.
Following a query raised post-publication, BMJ now understands that ECLAT SRL (the listed funder) receives sponsorship from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which is a not for profit group supported and funded by the tobacco company, Philip Morris International. The authors added a disclaimer to the article, referring to Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW) as the “grantor,” when the article was revised as part of the pre-publication peer-review process. The addition of this information and its significance was not specifically brought to the editor’s attention by the authors. Had this been done, the article would not have been published. BMJ Open’s Editorial Policy states that the journal will not consider for publication any study which has been partly or wholly funded by the tobacco industry.
This is not the first time links to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World have prompted a retraction.
Upon asking Adrian Aldcroft, editor in chief of BMJ Open, how the authors should have brought “this information and its significance” to its attention, and whether the journal had considered any changes to its processes based on the episode. He told us:
The authors added their “disclaimer” relating to FSFW after peer review rather than including it as part of their funding statement, where we would expect to see this information. The authors did not draw our attention to the disclaimer when they submitted their revision (e.g., in the cover letter or the point by point response). As such, the disclaimer went unnoticed by the editor. The editor was not aware of the link between ECLAT (the stated funder) and FSFW (and, by extension, PMI).
This case has highlighted for us the link, which is not immediately apparent, between the tobacco industry and products intended to help smokers, such as e-cigarettes. Our editors are now more careful assessing the COIs of any study relating to smokers and smoking. BMJ is also revising the tobacco policy and related processes across the portfolio in an effort to avoid similar cases in the future.