ABLECHILD: What’s the Difference Between Big Tobacco and Big Pharma? | Joe Hoft


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ABLECHILD: What’s the Difference Between Big Tobacco and Big Pharma?

The difference between Big Tobacco and Big Pharma

This article is republished with permission from AbleChild

The psychiatric drug industry and big tobacco share striking similarities in their tactics, particularly when it comes to downplaying the risks associated with their products and targeting vulnerable populations like youth. The psychiatric community has gotten away with pretending it is based in science and medicine to sell its snake oil, while the tobacco industry wasn’t so lucky.

A key difference lies in the government’s stance – while tobacco companies face increasing regulations and warnings, the psychiatric drug industry enjoys substantial government support and promotion despite the existence of black box warnings on many of their medications.  Both industries have a history of misleading marketing practices and minimizing potential harms.

Big tobacco companies notoriously concealed evidence linking smoking to lung cancer and other diseases for decades. Similarly, psychiatric drug manufacturers have been accused of selectively publishing favorable trial data and underreporting adverse effects.

Despite black box warnings – the FDA’s strongest safety alert – on many psychiatric medications, big pharma’s marketing often portrays an overly rosy picture.  A prime example is antidepressants carrying a black box warning about increased suicidality risk in youth. Yet, these drugs continue to be heavily promoted, with limited emphasis on this severe side effect. Worse yet, antidepressants are not approved for under 18’s and still they are prescribed off-label to the age group in increasing numbers. Atypical antipsychotics like Seroquel and Zyprexa also bear a black box warning about increased mortality risk in elderly dementia patients, but their use in this vulnerable population remains widespread.

Moreover, both industries have targeted youth, securing future customers through early exposure and addiction. Big tobacco’s calculated efforts to market to adolescents are well-documented. Many of us remember getting boxes of candy cigarettes as children. The tips of the candy cigarettes were even painted red to simulate they were lit.  Likewise, the psychiatric drug industry has been criticized for driving the dramatic rise in childhood psychiatric diagnoses and medication use, despite limited long-term safety data.

However, a crucial difference emerges in the government’s approach. Tobacco companies face intense scrutiny, with advertising restrictions, graphic health warnings on packaging, and mounting litigation. In contrast, the psychiatric drug industry enjoys considerable government financial support, 10.8 billion in the 2024 budget, and lack of stringent oversight.

Government agencies like the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) actively promote psychiatric medication use, often minimizing or omitting mention of black box warnings. School systems and foster care readily embrace psychotropic drugging of children, sometimes without proper consent. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies wield immense lobbying power, shaping mental health policies and curricula.

While the harms of smoking are widely accepted, psychiatric conditions remain poorly defined, lacking any scientific proof that they even exist as an abnormality in the brain, allowing the psychiatric drug industry to operate with less public scrutiny. Additionally, the medical establishment’s embrace of the chemical imbalance theory of mental illness has solidified psychotropic drugs as the dominant treatment paradigm, despite the theory finally being completely debunked in 2022 by Professor Joanna Moncrieff and Dr. Mark Horowitz.

Unlike big tobacco, which profits from maintaining addiction, the psychiatric drug industry can present itself as providing medical treatment for alleged disorders, shielding it from harsh criticism. This veneer of therapeutic intent, combined with deep institutional ties and lobbying clout, has allowed the industry to expand relatively unencumbered compared to its tobacco counterpart. In short, no one…no governing body has ever requested the psychiatric community prove even one diagnosis alleged by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) exists as an abnormality of the brain.  To date, the science of psychiatric diagnosing consists entirely of lists of behaviors with the APA deciding what behaviors are abnormal.

In essence, while both industries prioritize profits over public health and target vulnerable groups like youth, the psychiatric drug industry has managed to embed itself within the medical-government establishment in a way big tobacco never could.

Black box warnings exist for many psychiatric medications, but unlike tobacco’s graphic packaging warnings, these are often overshadowed by aggressive marketing and institutional support for psychotropic treatment. .As public awareness grows regarding psychiatric medication risks, particularly for children and adolescents, increased scrutiny, and regulation akin to big tobacco may become necessary.

Perhaps prioritizing non-pharmacological interventions, informed consent, and restricting marketing could help realign the system toward a more balanced, ethical approach to mental health care.

Ultimately, both industries have engaged in unethical practices that undermine public well-being. However, the psychiatric drug industry’s ability to operate under the guise of medical treatment, coupled with powerful institutional backing, has allowed it to avoid the level of public condemnation and stringent regulation faced by big tobacco, despite carrying similarly severe black box warnings.

Please donate today and join our mission to get complete and factual risk information into the hands of every person before starting psychiatric drugs. Everyone deserves to make a truly informed choice about what goes into their body. Together, we can shed light on this important issue.


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