PLoS Tobacco Ban

PLoS Medicine has joined PLoS Biology and PLoS ONE in not accepting “papers where support, in whole or in part, for the study or the researchers comes from a tobacco company.”

Long-time readers of the blog will know that I say, Bravo! I particularly appreciate their rationale:

First, tobacco is indisputably bad for health. … Tobacco interests in research cannot have a health aim—if they did, tobacco companies would be better off shutting down business—and therefore health research sponsored by tobacco companies is essentially advertising.

Second, we remain concerned about the industry’s long-standing attempts to distort the science of and deflect attention away from the harmful effects of smoking. … we do not wish to provide a forum for companies’ attempts to manipulate the science on tobacco’s harms.

They acknowledge this policy will have minimal impact on submissions as PLoS Medicine has not received any manuscripts involving tobacco support and PLoS ONE only two. However, they note that

the business model used to support our open access publishing (the research funder covers publication costs, unless the author requests a waiver) means we would essentially be accepting money from the tobacco industry by publishing their papers. This is unacceptable to the editorial team of PLoS Medicine.

Again, I applaud PLoS for another commendable contribution to the scientific community.



  1. whimple said

    This is a gimmick. If they really wanted to make a statement they wouldn’t publish any papers supported by DoD money. I’d stand up and cheer for that.

  2. Whimple’s comment illustrates exactly why this kind of litmus test is a *really* bad idea. We’ve already got people who want to ban papers funded by tobacco and DoD. What about people who think papers funded by Coca Cola on metabolism and obesity should be banned, because “if Coke really cared about obesity and metabolism, they’d just stop selling soda”. Once you start making these kinds of judgments about the “morality” of perfectly legal enterprises and the “taintedness” of their money, it never ends.

    • What about distilleries or breweries or wineries funding research? What about Planned Parenthood?

      • What about religious organizations? What if they fund scientific research?

  3. whimple said

    Yeah, all that. Nobody takes anything published in any PLoS journal seriously anyway, so they might as well score some political points. 🙂

  4. writedit said

    Well, gentlemen (term used lightly in reference to CPP), just because they don’t ban manuscripts from other sponsors does not mean they cannot ban tobacco-sponsored research manuscripts. I’ve never understood these sorts of arguments as a reason not to refuse so-called research sponsored by an industry whose product, when used as intended, harms/addicts/kills its user and further harms innocent bystanders and broader society (lost productivity, health care costs, etc.) … by an industry whose sordid history of manipulating and corrupting the research process has been well documented. They have no interest in generating new knowledge – they actively suppress new knowledge in conflict with their profit margins. I have personally observed their obscene control over academic research institutions … and have personally watched their products kill those I love. No, saying “if you don’t ban all the dirty money, you can’t ban any” is not a strong argument against PLoS’s decision. I realize it is a gesture only, and clearly they are not scoring points with either of you (and indeed, they fully expect to be “criticized as moralistic, unscientific, and against transparency”), but I still say kudos for calling a spade a spade in the realm of biomedical research.

  5. whimple said

    What about this real-world scenario?

    Some of the States that signed on to the Master Tobacco Settlement agreement, in their wisdom, put some of the tobacco money into research, on cancer, alternative crops, whatever. Are papers supported in whole or in part from this money unwelcome at PLoS?

    • writedit said

      Except the tobacco companies have no say in how settlement funds are spent so would not be in a position to select, control, or in any way influence that research. The issue is not the source of the money (e.g., federal tobacco tax revenue) but rather the involvement of tobacco companies in the research process for their own gain. Research directly funded by the tobacco industry aims to advance their financial success (and hence the successful manufacture and distribution of a known deadly, harmful product) versus the greater good of society and the scientific community.

  6. anon said

    What about abmrf?

    it is funded by alcohol selling businesses…where do we draw the line?

    • writedit said

      Alcohol (e.g., red wine) in moderation can have health benefits and consumed responsibly will not harm others. Tobacco has no health benefits at any level of consumption and will, at least when smoked versus chewed, harm those exposed to the smoke. Nicotine addiction can begin (physiologically) with the first cigarette smoked, whereas alcohol, I believe, requires chronic use to become addictive. And to the best of my knowledge, distilleries, breweries, and wineries have not tried to manipulate scientific data. Happy to be corrected, but I do put tobacco in a select category with regard to being a legitimate sponsor of biomedical research.

  7. “Tobacco has no health benefits at any level of consumption.”

    Its use correlates with reduced rates of Parkinson’s disease and dementia, and it is arguably a “smart drug,” i.e., a cognitive enhancer.

    I don’t use it, I don’t advocate it, and it may be the most addictive drug on the planet. But tobacco, like so many things, is not without its merits.

  8. BB said

    Someone just sent me a paper describing tobacco use for biofuel.
    Your thoughts, people?

    • writedit said

      Works for me – as does re-engineering the tobacco plant to produce therapeutic agents.

    • D said

      I find an occasional cigar to be very therapeutic. I worry though that if they use tobacco to make biofuels I will end up tailgating more often than I do. On the bright side my commute won’t be nearly as painful…almost enjoyable.

  9. Tim said

    Whimple’s 1st comment is spot on 🙂

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