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Last 50 Editorials

(Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

Not-For-Profit Price Gouging
Some Clinics Are More Equal than Others
Blue Shield of California Announces Help for Independent Doctors-A
Medicare for All-Good Idea or Political Death?
What Will Happen with the Generic Drug Companies’ Lawsuit: Lessons from
   the Tobacco Settlement
The Implications of Increasing Physician Hospital Employment
More Medical Science and Less Advertising
The Need for Improved ICU Severity Scoring
A Labor Day Warning
Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice
The Highest Paid Clerk
The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?
What the Supreme Court Ruling on Binding Arbitration May Mean to
Kiss Up, Kick Down in Medicine 
What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 
Guns, Suicide, COPD and Sleep
The Dangerous Airway: Reframing Airway Management in the Critically Ill 
   Linking Performance Incentives to Ethical Practice 
Brenda Fitzgerald, Conflict of Interest and Physician Leadership 
Seven Words You Can Never Say at HHS
Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 
Fake News in Healthcare 
Beware the Obsequious Physician Executive (OPIE) but Embrace Dyad
Disclosures for All 
Saving Lives or Saving Dollars: The Trump Administration Rescinds Plans to
   Require Sleep Apnea Testing in Commercial Transportation Operators
The Unspoken Challenges to the Profession of Medicine
EMR Fines Test Trump Administration’s Opposition to Bureaucracy 
Breaking the Guidelines for Better Care 
Worst Places to Practice Medicine 
Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 
In Defense of Eminence-Based Medicine 
Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in the Transportation Industry—
   The Time is Now 
Mitigating the “Life-Sucking” Power of the Electronic Health Record 
Has the VA Become a White Elephant? 
The Most Influential People in Healthcare 
Remembering the 100,000 Lives Campaign 
The Evil That Men Do-An Open Letter to President Obama 
Using the EMR for Better Patient Care 
State of the VA
Kaiser Plans to Open "New" Medical School 
CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals For Safety Incidents 
Honoring Our Nation's Veterans 
Capture Market Share, Raise Prices 
Guns and Sleep 
Is It Time for a National Tort Reform? 
Time for the VA to Clean Up Its Act 
Eliminating Mistakes In Managing Coccidioidomycosis 
A Tale of Two News Reports 
The Hands of a Healer 
The Fabulous Fours! Annual Report from the Editor 
A Veterans Day Editorial: Change at the VA? 


For complete editorial listings click here.

The Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care welcomes submission of editorials on journal content or issues relevant to the pulmonary, critical care or sleep medicine.


Entries in smoking (3)


Brenda Fitzgerald, Conflict of Interest and Physician Leadership 

Barely noticed in the news last week was Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation as director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) after only 6 months on the job (1). Her resignation came one day after Politico reported that she bought shares in a tobacco company one month after assuming the CDC directorship (2). The stock was one of about a dozen new investments that also included Merck and Bayer (3). Fitzgerald had come under criticism by Senator Patty Murray for slow walking divestment from older holdings that government officials said posed potential conflicts of interest (1). While serving as director of the Georgia Department of Health, Fitzgerald owned stock in five other tobacco companies: Reynolds American, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Philip Morris International, and Altria Group (4).

“It gives you a window, I think, into her value system,” said Kathleen Clark, a professor of law focusing on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis (2). “It doesn’t make her a criminal, but it does raise the question of what are her commitments? What are her values, and are they consistent with this government agency that is dedicated to the public health? Frankly, she loses some credibility.” Purchasing tobacco stocks by any physician is disturbing, even more so when done by the director of the agency that spearheads the US government’s efforts to reduce smoking.

The influence of money on healthcare legislation has become increasingly concerning. Merck, whose stock Fitzgerald purchased on August 9, has been working on developing an Ebola vaccine and also makes HIV medications (2,3). Bayer, whose stock she purchased on August 10, has in the past partnered with the CDC Foundation to prevent the spread of the Zika virus (2,3). Fitzgerald’s purchases of tobacco stocks represent just one more instance of a potentially inappropriate relationship between politicians and business. Previous research published in the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care (SWJPCC) demonstrated a correlation between tobacco company political action committee contributions and support of pro-tobacco legislation (5).

Fitzgerald’s ethics issues are apart from a broader assessment of her leadership at the CDC. She had no research experience while leading an organization where research is one of its primary functions. She had previously promoted anti-aging medications to her patients despite no evidence of their efficacy (6).  She made few public statements during her time at the CDC and waited 133 days before holding her first staff meeting. She was scheduled several times to testify before Congress but sent deputies instead.

Fitzgerald seems to represent a high-profile version of the obsequious physician executive (OPIE), i.e., a physician obedient or attentive to an excessive or servile degree (7). Like the OPIE at the local hospital, Fitzgerald may have been appointed not for skill as a leader but her compliance as a subordinate to her supervisors. It raises the question of who would want to be director of the CDC when the current administration has been openly hostile, targeting the agency for deep budget cuts.

Hopefully, the next director of the CDC will be less conflicted. Previously, the SWJPCC has published tobacco company PAC contributions to candidates for political office (5). At the request of the Arizona Thoracic Society we intend to do the same prior to the November 2018 elections (8). In the interim, you can check tobacco company PAC contributions to federal candidates on the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids website or for contributions at the state level at (9,10).

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC


  1. Sun LJ. CDC director resigns because of conflicts over financial interests. Washington Post. January 31, 2018. Available at: (accessed 2/3/18).
  2. Karlin-Smith S, Ehley B. Trump's top health official traded tobacco stock while leading anti-smoking efforts. Politico. January 30, 2018. Available at: (accessed 2/3/18).
  3. Fitzgerald B. Periodic Transaction Report | U.S. Office of Government Ethics; 5 C.F.R. part 2634 Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report: Periodic Transaction Report (OGE Form 278-T). Revised 12/21/17. Available at: (accessed 2/3/18).
  4. Fitzgerald B. Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report (OGE Form 278e). Revised 10/12/17. Available at: (accessed 2/3/18).
  5. Robbins RA. Tobacco company campaign contributions and congressional support of the cigar bill. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016;13(4):187-90. [CrossRef]
  6. Levitz E. Trump’s CDC pick peddled ‘anti-aging’ medicine to her gynecologic patients. New York Magazine. July 10, 2017. Available at: (accessed 2/3/18).
  7. Robbins RA. Beware the obsequious physician executive (OPIE) but embrace dyad leadership. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(4):151-3. [CrossRef]
  8. Robbins RA. September 2017 Arizona thoracic society notes. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(3):122-4. [CrossRef]
  9. Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Tobacco PAC contributions to federal candidates. Available at: (accessed 2/3/18).
  10. The National Institute on Money in State Politics. Money in state politics. Available at: (accessed 2/3/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Brenda Fitzgerald, conflict of interest and physician leadership. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(2):83-5. doi: PDF 


Questioning the Inspectors 

In the early twentieth century hospitals were unregulated and care was arbitrary, nonscientific and often poor. The Flexner report of 1910 and the establishment of hospital standards by the American College of Surgeons in 1918 began the process of hospital inspection and improvement (1). The later program eventually evolved into what we know today as the Joint Commission. Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals have been inspected and accredited by the Joint Commission since the Reagan administration.

The VA hospitals often share reports regarding recent Joint Commission inspections and disseminate the reports as a "briefing". One of these briefings from a recent  Amarillo VA inspection was widely distributed as an email attachment and forwarded to me (for a copy of the briefing click here). There were several items in the briefing that are noteworthy. One was on the first page (highlighted in the attachment) where the briefing stated, "Surveyor recommended teaching people how to smoke with oxygen, not just discuss smoking cessation". However, patients requiring oxygen should not smoke with oxygen flowing (2,3).  It is not that oxygen is explosive but a patient lighting a cigarette in a high oxygen environment can ignite their oxygen tubing resulting in a facial burn (2,3). A very rare but more serious situation can occur when a home fire results from ignition of clothing, bedding, etc. (3).

A quick Google search revealed no data for any program teaching patients to smoke on oxygen. It is possible that the author of the "briefing" misunderstood the Joint Commission surveyor. However, the lack of physician, nurse and respiratory therapist autonomy makes it easy to envision administrative demands for a program to "teach people how to smoke on oxygen" wasting clinician and technician time to do something that is potentially harmful.

Although this is an extreme and absurd example of healthcare directed by bureaucrats, review of the remainder of the "briefing" is only slightly less disappointing. Most of the Joint Commission's recommendations for Amarillo would not be expected to improve healthcare and even fewer have an evidence basis. The Joint Commission focus should be on those standards demonstrated to improve patient outcomes rather than a series of arbitrary meaningless metrics. For example, a Joint Commission inspection should include an assessment of the adequacy of nurse staffing, are the major medical specialties and subspecialties readily accessible, is sufficient equipment and space provided to care for the patients, etc. (4-5).  By ignoring the important and focusing on the insignificant, the Joint Commission is pushing hospitals towards arbitrary and nonscientific care reminiscent of the last century. These poor hospital inspections will undoubtedly eventually lead to poorer patient outcomes.

Richard A. Robbins, MD*



  1. Borus ME, Buntz CG, Tash WR. Evaluating the Impact of Health Programs: A Primer. 1982. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Robb BW, Hungness ES, Hershko DD, Warden GD, Kagan RJ. Home oxygen therapy: adjunct or risk factor? J Burn Care Rehabil. 2003;24(6):403-6. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  3. Ahrens M. Fires And Burns Involving Home Medical Oxygen. National Fire Protection. Association. Available at: (accessed 3/12/14).
  4. Aiken LH, Clarke SP, Sloane DM, Sochalski J, Silber JH. Hospital nurse staffing and patient mortality, nurse burnout, and job dissatisfaction. JAMA. 2002 Oct 23-30;288(16):1987-93. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Harrold LR, Field TS, Gurwitz JH. Knowledge, patterns of care, and outcomes of care for generalists and specialists. J Gen Intern Med. 1999;14(8):499-511. [CrossRef] [PubMed]

*The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado or California Thoracic Societies or the Mayo Clinic.

Reference as: Robbins RA. Questioning the inspectors. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;8(3):188-9. doi: PDF


Smoking, Epidemiology and E-Cigarettes

"The true face of smoking is disease, death and horror - not the glamour and sophistication the pushers in the tobacco industry try to portray." - David Byrne

In our fellows’ conference we recently reviewed the evolution of the science of clinical epidemiology as it relates to the association of smoking and lung cancer and the concurrent history of tobacco marketing in the United States. 

This story begins in 1950, when Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill published their landmark case control study demonstrating the association between smoking and lung cancer (1). This study was performed with methodological standards that have rarely been matched in the 63 years since.  Exhaustive analysis of possible confounders, a multi-stage evaluation of study blinding, determination of dose-effect, and the use of multiple analyses to establish consistency are among many examples of superb attention to detail exercised by Doll and Hill in this study.  The results showed that patients with lung cancer were about 15 times more likely than matched control patients to have smoked tobacco (Odds ratio 15).  The p-value was 0.00000064  - indicating that the probability of calculating such a result by chance alone is less than one-in-a-million.  In comparison, many modern case control trials are characterized by weak associations (odds ratios of 1-3) with p-values that are barely significant.  Yet the phenomenal and nearly unparalleled results of this study had practically no discernable effect on the increasing rate of smoking in the following decade.

Many factors opposed the conclusions of Doll and Hill.  Atmospheric pollution – perhaps emanating from motor car exhaust or asphalt tarmac – was felt to be the leading suspect in the increasing incidence of lung cancer.  At the time, it seemed inconceivable to most people that smoking could cause cancer.  Two thirds of British men smoked.  Smoking was widely endorsed by the medical profession – Doll and Hill themselves had both previously been smokers.  The British Department of Health did not endorse their findings, amid worries that the study might start a panic.  Several prominent statisticians, including Sir Ronald Fisher, publicly criticized their study design and conclusions.  Fisher was a polymath – a genius with significant accomplishments in multiple disciplines, widely recognized as the founder of modern statistics, having invented Fisher’s exact test, and ANOVA and having collaborated in the development of the Student’s T test.  Fisher was also an avid smoker.  It was later disclosed that Fisher had lucrative financial ties to the tobacco industry, raising questions whether Fisher’s criticisms of Doll and Hill were bought and paid for.

Doll and Hill followed up with a stronger study design – performing one of the finest cohort studies ever – the British Physician’s study.  They enrolled over 40,000 British Physicians – almost 70% of all registered in Britain.  Outcomes in this cohort were eventually evaluated over 50 years, and contributed to our knowledge in many areas of medicine.  But the results in regards to the relationship between smoking and lung cancer were objectively convincing within the first decade of follow-up.  In an interim analysis in 1961 (2), the relative risk for lung cancer in smokers was found to be increased 18 times – consistent with the findings of their case control trial.  Fisher’s exact test was incalculable in 1961 since it required the quantization of enormous factorials, but I calculated a p-value of 0.0000000000000001 (one in 100-quadrillion) using their data and an on-line Microsoft statistics program.  It’s satisfying to find that Fisher’s namesake statistic so convincingly validates the conclusions that he personally refuted.  Sir Austin Bradford Hill is famous for his contention that we often over-focus on achieving a p-value < 0.05 in modern medical research – the incomparable statistical significance of this study illustrates his point.  

Despite increasing scientific evidence against smoking, cigarette consumption in the U.S. continued to rise, and did not fall below pre-1950 levels until the early eighties.  A further generation of young men took on the habit, many of which were introduced to smoking in the armed services - cigarettes having been routinely included in C-rations of US soldiers who fought in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam.  Cigarette smoking was endorsed by everyone from movie stars, to sports stars to doctors – Bob Hope, Mickey Mantle and Ronald Reagan among them.  Santa Claus appeared in multiple ads with a cigarette in one hand, and his red toy bag in the other – fecklessly endorsing multiple different brands including Lucky Strikes and Pall Malls. 

Several tobacco advertisement campaigns were particularly influential.  Philip Morris introduced the “Marlboro Man”, considered one of the most brilliant ad campaigns in history, in 1954.  Marlboro cigarettes were filtered.  The implied (but factitious) protective benefits of the filter were not explicitly marketed, but filtered cigarettes were considered “feminine” at the time.  The use of real rodeo cowboys in the Marlboro ads dramatically changed that impression – particularly in the minds of post adolescent boys.  One indication of the success of the Marlboro Man is that Philip Morris is said to have spent $300 million dollars finding a replacement when Darrell Winfield, the most famous of the Marlboro men, retired.

In the late sixties, Philip Morris also marketed smoking to young women with a brand designed specifically for women called Virginia Slims.  Riding the wave of women’s liberation, the slogan “You’ve come a long way baby” promoted smoking as a way to express emancipation and empowerment.   RJ Reynolds introduced the “Joe Camel” ad campaign in 1987, allegedly targeting children with a cool-looking cartoon of an anthropomorphic camel.  Sounds silly, I know, but it worked.  In 5 short years after starting this campaign, the annual sales of Camel cigarettes to teenagers rose from 6 million to 470 million dollars.  At its peak, it was shown that six-year-old children could associate the character of “Joe Camel” with Camel cigarettes about as frequently as they could associate Mickey Mouse with Disney.  A study published in JAMA concluded that tobacco experimentation by 700,000 adolescents per year could be attributed to targeted advertising (3). 

Although public education had already made great inroads in reducing smoking in the US by the 80’s, legal and governmental anti-smoking pressure began to build thereafter.  In 1988, Rose Cipollone  posthumously won the first successful wrongful harm lawsuit of a smoker against a tobacco manufacturer.  Mangini sued RJ Reynolds on behalf of children in regards to the Joe Camel ad campaign.  In the 1988 Report of the Surgeon General, C Everett Koop concluded that nicotine has an addictiveness similar to that of heroin.  C Everett Koop’s continuing efforts to raise public awareness initiated some of the first public discourse in regards to the dangers of second-hand smoke (subsequently found to cause 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S.).  Smoking rates in the United States declined from 38% to 27% during his tenure.

In the 1990s, the tobacco lobby engaged in a comprehensive and aggressive political effort to neutralize clean indoor air legislation, minimize tobacco tax increases, and preserve the industry's marketing strategies.  However the famous Waxman congressional hearings intervened in 1997.  In sworn testimony before congress, the CEOs of seven major tobacco companies famously asserted that smoking tobacco was not addictive, contrary to incontrovertible scientific evidence.  Two sources revealed their insincerity.  The first was testimony of previous employees of the tobacco industry, such as Jeffrey Wigman and Victor DeNoble, who testified that the addictive and carcinogenic properties of cigarette tobacco had been artificially manipulated by the industry.   The second was the discovery of internal tobacco industry memos, which revealed that the addictive properties of tobacco were well recognized within the industry as early as 1960s.  A few excerpts follow:

“… nicotine is addictive. We are, then, in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug” July 17, 1963 report by then Brown & Williamson general counsel/vice president Addison Yeaman.

 “The cigarette should be conceived not as a product but as a package. The product is nicotine. …Think of a cigarette as a dispenser for a dose unit of nicotine…”  1972 William Dunn, Jr., of the Philip Morris Research Center, “Motives and Incentives in Cigarette Smoking.”

“Within 10 seconds of starting to smoke, nicotine is available in the brain. . . giving an instantaneous catch or hit . . . Other “drugs” such as marijuana, amphetamines, and alcohol are slower”  Circa 1980  C.C. Greig in a BAT R&D memo

The Waxman hearings resulted in a $368 billion dollar assessment against the tobacco industry, and increased restrictions on advertising and lobbying.  Shortly thereafter, the Joe Camel and Marlboro Man ad campaigns were terminated.  With the public revelation that three previous Marlboro Men had died from lung cancer, that ad campaign had lost its appeal.  

In the late 90s/early 2000s, the nicotine content of all major brands of cigarettes was progressively increased on average by 1.8% per year.  This might theoretically make it harder for smokers to kick the habit.  Sales promotions totaling about $400 per year per smoker were directed at loyal smokers.  Despite restrictions, the tobacco industry continued to invest $25 million dollars per year in lobbying.  Upon further negotiation, the tobacco master settlement was reduced to 200 billion – only 12.7 billion to be paid up front.  The full details of this settlement have become increasingly legally obfuscated over time in my opinion; some states are actually selling tobacco settlement bonds now to protect themselves against loss of future return from the settlement.   

Although US cigarette consumption has dramatically fallen, worldwide sales are peaking, and the international rates of women smokers are still on the rise.  Philips Morris restructured and rebranded their corporation as Altria (sounds like the word “altruistic”).  They subsumed Kraft and Nabisco foods, but the majority of their >100,000 million dollars in annual revenue are derived from tobacco sales, about two-thirds of which are international. 

Many US tobacco firms are rapidly investing in production and marketing of electronic cigarettes that vaporize nicotine for inhalation.  It is likely that inhaling vaporized nicotine is less dangerous than smoking tobacco.  However, the health effects of inhaling vaporized nicotine are not well studied yet.  The purported benefits of vaping over smoking have already been publicly aired as an argument to turn back current restrictions on public smoking.  Electronic cigarettes are being advertised as glamorous again in advertisements reminiscent of tobacco ads seen in the 1970s.  E-cigs in which nicotine is flavored with chocolate, or various fruit flavors, seem to once-again target children.  The promotion of a highly addictive drug to children and young adults cannot be beneficial to society in the long term, even if vaping doesn’t lead to lung cancer.  But the rapid increase in vaping promises that another round in the societal struggle against nicotine addiction is about to begin again.

Doll and Hill’s work played a tremendous beneficial role in this story.  Their case control and cohort studies set the methodological standard by which all subsequent observational trials should be measured – although our experience in journal club is that modern observational trials don’t even come close.  Furthermore, their work became the basis for the subsequent formulation of the “Bradford Hill Criteria” for establishing causation, which still plays a dominant role in medical and medicolegal reasoning.   

Robert A. Raschke, MD

Associate Editor 


  1. Doll R, Hill AB. Smoking and carcinoma of the lung; preliminary report. Br Med J. 1950;2(4682):739-48. [CrossRef]
  2. Doll R, Hill AB. The mortality of doctors in relation to their smoking habits; a preliminary report. Br Med J. 1954;1(4877):1451-5. [CrossRef]
  3. Pierce JP, Choi WS, Gilpin EA, Farkas AJ, Berry CC. Tobacco industry promotion of cigarettes and adolescent smoking. JAMA. 1998;279(7):511-5. [CrossRef] [PubMed]   

Reference as: Raschke RA. Smoking, epidemiology and e-cigarettes. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;7(1):41-5. doi: PDF