Groups Behaving Badly, #3: Pfizer


Pfizer is one of the leading culprits responsible for statewide and nationwide smoking bans, lobbying politicians to enact them after giving them “campaign donations.” Pfizer also pays ABC cancer “charities” to promote bans. Despite Pfizer’s deadly products, bribery, corruption, tax evasion, environmental disasters, human rights abuses, and cover-ups, groups like the American Cancer Society and yes, even U.S. politicians, have no moral qualms about accepting their money. All this work pays off: sales of “Nicotine Replacement Therapies” like nicotine gum go through the roof with every new smoking ban and tax against smokers. This, despite the fact that NRTs are less effective than placebo! The following article is by Philip Mattera at the Corporate Research Project.


Pfizer made itself the largest pharmaceutical company in the world in large part by purchasing its competitors. In the last dozen years it has carried out three mega-acquisitions: Warner-Lambert in 2000, Pharmacia in 2003, and Wyeth in 2009. Then, in 2015, Pfizer announced a $160 billion deal to merge with Allergan and move its headquarters to Ireland to avoid U.S. taxes but subsequently had to abandon the plan.

Pfizer has also grown through aggressive marketing—a practice it pioneered back in the 1950s by purchasing unprecedented advertising spreads in medical journals. In 2009 the company had to pay a record $2.3 billion to settle federal charges that one of its subsidiaries had illegally marketed a painkiller called Bextra. Along with the questionable marketing, Pfizer has for decades been at the center of controversies over its pricing, including a price-fixing case that began in 1958.

In the area of product safety, Pfizer’s biggest scandal involved defective heart valves sold by its Shiley subsidiary that led to the deaths of more than 100 people. During the investigation of the matter, information came to light suggesting that the company had deliberately misled regulators about the hazards. Pfizer also inherited safety and other legal controversies through its big acquisitions, including a class action suit over Warner-Lambert’s Rezulin diabetes medication, a big settlement over PCB dumping by Pharmacia, and thousands of lawsuits brought by users of Wyeth’s diet drugs.

Also on Pfizer’s list of scandals are a 2012 bribery settlement; massive tax avoidance; and lawsuits alleging that during a meningitis epidemic in Nigeria in the 1990s the company tested a risky new drug on children without consent from their parents.

Product Safety

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