LONDON--A group of UK health professionals has called for the healthcare industry to cut ties with PR firms that represent tobacco interests.

The call comes as the country's pharmaceutical trade body (ABPI) confirmed it had parted ways with Luther Pendragon because of the firm's work for Philip Morris.

Writing in the Lancet, the group of more than 25 health professionals points to public affairs firms Crosby Textor and Luther Pendragon, which have worked for the tobacco industry.

"Public relations companies might take their own view of what they regard as ethical, but it would clearly be unacceptable for any health-care organisation to engage with a company that is simultaneously working to oppose public health legislation," says the group, which features Imperial College clinical senior lecturer Dr Nick Hopkinson.

"We therefore call on all health-care organisations, and especially the UK Department of Health, to send out a clear message by severing any links they have with public relations companies that work to promote the interests of the tobacco industry. Additionally, they should adopt clear, ethical policies to ensure that they will not give contracts to such companies in the future."

Also targeted is the Conservative Party, which has hired political consultant Lynton Crosby to provide strategic advice for its next election campaign. Crosby's firm Crosby Textor has supported the Australian tobacco industry's opposition to 'plain packaging', which became law last year.

In a statement released yesterday, the ABPI said it decided to end its relationship with Luther Pendragon in December last year, once it learned that  had begun working for the tobacco giant.

The ABPI hired Luther Pendragon earlier in the year to provide public affairs advice, supporting its relationships with the political sector, the NHS and patient organisations. The ABPI has now handed this assignment to MHP Health Mandate.

Reports surfaced last year that Luther Pendragon helped Philip Morris campaign against UK plans to adopt Australia's 'plain packaging' laws.

Luther Pendragon did not respond to request for comment as this story went live.

 “While I respect the 25 health professionals who have made this forthright demand, as they say themselves, public relations companies can take their own view of what they regard as ethical," said PRCA director general Francis ingham. "But I would go further, to say that this applies to healthcare firms as well."

“The PRCA is in favour of a free and open PR industry, and we believe that only clients themselves have the right to make a decision on who they can and can’t employ to handle their public relations. However, the PRCA thinks that this is certainly a valuable issue for debate – but one that the entire industry needs to take part in rather than a handful of health professionals.”