UVa Criticised for Tobacco Collaboration

From our friends across the Pond at BMJ:

University medical school accepts tobacco company funding

A string of medical experts have lined up to criticise the decision by the University of Virginia School of Medicine to accept funding for medical research from tobacco company Philip Morris—to the tune of $20m.

The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the editor of the academic journal Tobacco have all condemned the news.

A medical school taking funding from the tobacco industry is like a peace studies school taking funding from terrorists,” said Tobacco Control’s editor Simon Chapman, professor of public health at the University of Sydney.

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said he too was against the move.

“There is a growing body of evidence that this kind of arrangement results in biased studies in favour of the funder”. The real reason he suspects the tobacco industry does this is to help their image and improve the marketing for their deadly product. “If Big Tobacco is really interested in helping people, they should stop operations and go into another line of business,” he said.

Ron Davis, president elect of the American Medical Association, said it was his organisation’s policy to discourage medical schools from accepting research funding from the tobacco industry.

How can the research be ‘independent’ when it is conducted via a ‘a significant deepening of the partnership’ between the two organisations?” he asked, referring to the university’s press statement on the deal.

Meanwhile Peter Lurie, deputy director general of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organisation, slated the decision: “For a medical school in particular to accept money from a tobacco company is to risk becoming a pawn in a public relations game,” he said. “There is no such thing as money from any body that does not come without strings attached.”

… Arthur Garson, the dean of the school of medicine, said that in addition to work on youth smoking prevention the researchers would be looking into addiction and devising public health messages against smoking. He insists that Philip Morris will play no role other than to be appraised of the “broad outcomes” of the work.

In a video interview on the website, Dr Tim Garson states: “What this vision allows us to do, in working with Philip Morris, is to stop children even from thinking about smoking.”

Dr Garson later defended his decision, saying: “If we can stop kids from starting to smoke, I don’t care whether Philip Morris gets PR for it or we get PR for it. If on the basis of this programme, children don’t smoke, then we have succeeded, period.”

by Lynn Eaton – BMJ 2007;334:496 (10 March)

Dr. Garson … if tobacco companies stopped selling and profiting from the product that funds your research, kids would never start smoking much less think about it. Consider how much Philip Morris could save in research costs, never mind litigation expenses. Sadly, a drop in the bucket compared with the obscene profits made by addicting millions of people worldwide and contributing to the early death of most of these as well as millions more innocent bystanders.

I’m afraid I would need significant corrective lenses (aka blinders) to have the same “vision” as you. But I guess $20M buys a lot of vision correcting services. Still, I’ve seen even lower levels of Philip Morris funding “correct” the vision of officials at other academic medical centers (with NCI-designated cancer centers, like yours). I guess I should be grateful that at least you weren’t bought so cheaply. Or not.

(Watch Dr. Garson’s video & decide whether you could deliver this PR soundbite with as straight a face …)

1 Comment »

  1. writedit said

    Well, Philip Morris funding of youth prevention centers here at UVa, UCLA, Duke, et al. seems to be having the desired effect: youth smoking rates are creeping back up according to the CDC as reported by the Washington Post.

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