Big Tobacco Buys Scientific Credibility

Hong MK, Bero LA. Tobacco industry sponsorship of a book and conflict of interest. Addiction. 2006 Aug;101(8):1202-11.

Aim: The tobacco industry has hidden its involvement in the design, conduct and publication of scientific research articles and has used the articles to argue against tobacco regulation. The objective of this study is to examine tobacco industry involvement in the development of scientific books.

Design: Qualitative analysis of previously secret internal tobacco industry documents retrieved from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Information from the documents was supplemented with material from Internet searches, the National Center for Biotechnology Information Pubmed database and interviews with individuals involved in book publication.

Findings: Between 1997 and 1999 the tobacco industry sponsored a monograph, entitled ‘Analytical Determination of Nicotine and Related Compounds and their Metabolites’, that examined the measurement and metabolism of nicotine. The tobacco industry recruited Elsevier Science to publish the monograph. Tobacco industry executives, lawyers and scientists reviewed the chapters. One use of the monograph was to stimulate collaborative efforts between academic and tobacco industry scientists. Another was to provide the book to a government regulatory agency reviewing the teratogenic effects of nicotine.

Conclusion: Our findings show the breadth of tobacco industry engagement in scientific knowledge production and dissemination, and its motives for sponsoring scientific literature. The industry’s effort to gain credibility through collaboration with academic scientists raises questions regarding the ethics of accepting tobacco industry funding for publication. Scientists who collaborate on publications sponsored by the tobacco industry must consider the full implications of these joint efforts.

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Direct tobacco industry—academic links

There are those who feel that a ‘mutually beneficial’ harm reduction research agenda can be funded directly by the tobacco industry; but such links give the industry a credibility and respectability it does not merit. The very same industry that is pursuing the harm reduction agenda in countries with strong tobacco control measures is aggressively promoting its addictive, lethal products elsewhere in the world.

So far as when it will be acceptable to deal directly with the tobacco industry, this cannot be until the abuses stop. It has taken decades to find out about the tobacco industry’s bad practices and, even if it were to embrace genuine change now, it would take many years, and a system of transparency and independent regulation, before the public health community could trust it.

The global tobacco pandemic can be likened to a bush fire raging out of control. The arsonists claim they want to help put it out and even to be admitted into the fire control operations room. Yet they are still fanning the flames and starting new fires around the world. That tobacco industry resources and scientific knowledge are both required for harm reduction research is not in dispute. How these should be accessed is, however. Given the evidence of manipulation of scientific processes and findings by that industry, it cannot be allowed to have any control over, or gain any credibility or respectability through association with, that research.

From: King J. Accepting tobacco industry money for research: has anything changed now that harm reduction is on the agenda? Addiction. 2006 Aug;101(8):1067-9.

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