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Medscape severs ties with tobacco industry after backlash over $3M Philip Morris International deal

The medical education provider had proposed a year’s worth of online content about smoking cessation

One of the largest medical education providers in the United States has terminated its multimillion-dollar deal with Philip Morris International following public outcry over the tobacco giant’s sponsorship of its smoking cessation courses.

The move comes after The BMJ revealed Medscape’s partnershipwith the world’s second biggest tobacco company earlier this month. An internal document shared with The Examination and The BMJ now reveals the scale of the deal: Philip Morris International was due to pay $2.9 million in order to deliver a year-long “PMI curriculum” to be sent to the provider’s vast network of healthcare professionals.

The Medscape deal appears to be part of a strategy by Philip Morris International to sponsor continuous professional development courses for medical professionals around the world. The Examination has discovered that the tobacco company has also sponsored webinars on “harm reduction” across the the Middle East and in South Africa.

Medscape’s continuous medical education (CME) courses allow professionals to gain credits to maintain their medical licenses. Medscape was aiming to deliver the Philip Morris International sponsored courses to more than 65,000 people in its network, which includes almost 8,000 pulmonologists. 

Under the Philip Morris International deal, five courses were released in late February and March 2024, including ones called “Health Impact of Tobacco Products: What Do We Know in 2024?” and “Harm Reduction from Tobacco: An Evidence Based Discussion.” 

Medscape has removed the sponsored courses from its website and established a policy that it will no longer accept funding from any organization affiliated with the tobacco industry, according to an email sent by the general manager of Medscape Education to National Jewish Health, a leading U.S. respiratory hospital. 

The email, seen by The Examination said, “Upon reflection, we acknowledge that the use of this funder was a misjudgment that was out of character for Medscape Education and that doing so may have disappointed our members.” 

Medscape did not respond to requests for comment.

‘Egregious breach of health ethics’

The Examination has spoken to multiple Medscape staff members, who all asked to remain anonymous due to fear of losing their jobs, and expressed shock that the medical education provider would partner with the world’s second biggest tobacco company. 

The employees labeled the sponsorship a “marketing ploy” to sell more vaping products and an “egregious breach of health ethics.” Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, theorganization that accredits Medscape’s educational courses, told The Examination it is “pursuing an inquiry” into the deal after receiving a complaint. 

One Medscape insider, who wanted to remain anonymous because of what they claim to be a company culture that discourages people from speaking up, said the Philip Morris International partnership sets a “dangerous precedent”. 

“It doesn’t give me much hope for independent medical education,” they said. “It is supposed to be trustworthy and unbiased. To not be able to trust that as a learner is going to change everything.”

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