Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

BC government quashed independent review of 'political' smoking cessation program

A British Columbia health ministry official told the Therapeutics Initiative that the government would not use the independent drug review body to examine Premier Christy Clark's smoking cessation program since the program had become "political".

"We've decided to keep Smoking Cessation in-house, sorry about that," wrote Rebecca Warburton, who was then a co-director of research and evidence development in the ministry's pharmaceutical services branch, in a June 21, 2012 email to a Therapeutics Initiative official.

"It's getting political and we aren't sure anyone wants to see a published evaluation," Warburton wrote.

The New Democratic Party released the email and grilled Health Minister Terry Lake on its contents during question period.

"The government instructed the Therapeutics Initiative not to proceed with a published review," said NDP leader Adrian Dix in a scrum with reporters. "This is no way to conduct business. This is no way to keep British Columbians safe."

He noted that one of the drugs the government promotes through the smoking cessation program, Champix which is made by Pfizer, has been the subject of a class action suit in Ontario and France stopped paying for it in 2011 due to concerns about suicide and self harm.

The Therapeutics Initiative's work can be inconvenient for the government, but it should not be stopped from doing independent reviews, Dix said. "It's disgraceful conduct. It's scandalous conduct."

"Obviously we're interested in following all of the relevant information, including any legal action and we'll take action as necessary as new information becomes available," said minister Lake.

Six provinces' drug plans are paying for Champix, which was approved nationally through the common drug review process, he said. Some studies have shown concerns about Champix, while others have shown it is safe and effective, he said.

Lake said he didn't know if there had been any review or assessment of the overall smoking cessation program to see if it is working as intended.

Warburton was fired in October 2012 as part of an investigation the ministry says involves data breaches, conflicts of interest and contracting out. She is suing the government for wrongful dismissal and defamation.

Clark promised to have the public pay for smoking cessation products as part of her campaign to lead the BC Liberal Party. That funding began in September 2011.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus