Pfizer Paid Medical Director for State-Funded Anti-Smoking Campaign

Last Updated Jan 12, 2009 2:27 PM EST

UPDATE: The doctor at the center of the report says his role was misrepresented, and that there was no overlap between his time at Pfizer and the anti-smoking project he later led. See comments section below for full statement. The medical director of a state-funded anti-smoking project in Wisconsin was on Pfizer's payroll as a speaker for Chantix, the controversial anti-smoking drug, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In 2007, the paper said, Dr. Eric Heiligenstein (pictured) put in 14 days for Pfizer and was paid $10,000 to $20,000. Heiligenstein also gave paid talks for Pfizer in 2006, the paper said.

Heiligenstein.jpgHeiligenstein, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychiatrist, is also the medical director of the Wisconsin Nicotine Dependence Treatment Integration Project, according to this newsletter. The project is state-funded, according to this press release.

The relationships are potentially controversial for two reasons. First, there has been criticism that tax-funded anti-smoking efforts have been turned into sales pitches for anti-smoking drugs marketed by pharma companies. Some people believe quitting cold turkey is actually more effective than drugs.

Second, Chantix has been associated with unusual side effects (such as suicidal thoughts) and has been banned for some users, like airline pilots and truckers.

Side note: Heiligenstein is a bit of a blues guitarist. You can enjoy his music on his MySpace page here. The No.1 song listed on his page is "Baby Scratch My Back."