Duke University and the Tobacco Industry

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Duke University is a private research university located in Durham, North Carolina, USA.

It was founded in 1924, with a multi-million dollar gift from the Duke Endowment, a philanthropic fund set up by the Duke tobacco dynasty. The university’s precursor, Trinity College, was renamed Duke University in memory of the family.1 James Buchanan ‘Buck’ Duke left approximately half of his estate to The Duke Endowment upon his death, with US$67 million going to the university trust fund in the university’s first year of operations.2

History of Tobacco Money

The Duke family fortune was made in the tobacco trade. In 1885, James Buchanan Duke acquired a license to use the first automated cigarette making machine. By 1890, Duke consolidated control of his four major competitors under one corporate entity, the American Tobacco Company, which then held the monopoly in the American cigarette market.34

His attempts to conquer the British market at the start of the 1900s eventually forced the then-divided British manufacturers to merge into Imperial Tobacco (now Imperial Brands) in 1901.5 Later, in 1902, a third cooperative venture named the British American Tobacco Company was set up between Imperial Tobacco in the UK and the American Tobacco Company to trade in Africa, Asia, Latin America and continental Europe.6

University Funding in Exchange for Tobacco PR

More recently, Duke University accepted multi-million dollar funding from Philip Morris (PM) (Philip Morris USA since 2008) to establish the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research, now the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation (CSC). The CSC was established with a multimillion-dollar gift from PM. According to the letter of agreement between Philip Morris and Duke, the tobacco company agreed to provide an initial US$15 million to establish the centre in 2004, with a further US$5 million annually for the first three years.7 In October 2006, PM extended the grant for an additional US$15 million over the three-year period of June 2007 – May 2010.8 In 2012, an updated version of the company’s website says the total of grants was US$37 million by June 2012.9 This webpage mentions QuitAssist as Altria’s support for people who have decided to quit.

The company emphasises it does not have any control or influence in conducting research or publication. The University acknowledges PM funding on its website10 and in journal papers.11

The agreement between Duke and PM stipulates that one of the center’s academic scientists was to become a formal part of Philip Morris’ public relations efforts. So, in return for the funding, Rose accepted a seat on the Advisory Board of the company’s “smoker cessation support initiative,” QuitAssist®.12 The other three original members of the board were Jonathan Bloomberg, M.D. from University of Illinois College of Medicine, Rafael Art. Javier, Ph.D., ABPP from St. John’s University and Robert L. Sokolove, Ph.D. from Boston University School of Medicine. In the second half of 2011, two more members joined: Caroline S. Clauss-Ehlers, Ph.D., Rutgers University, and Cheryl K. Olson, Sc.D., health behaviour researcher and consultant from Reston, VA.13

PM develops nicotine inhaler

In 2010, PM was working on the development of a tobacco-free device to facilitate the inhalation of nicotine pyruvate, which dissolves into nicotine and pyruvate (normally found in the blood) upon reaching the lungs. The technology was developed by Rose and colleagues at Duke.14

In May 2011, PMI bought the global patent rights of a new technology employing, according to the press release:15

“a unique method for delivering a nicotine-containing aerosol that has the potential to reduce the harm of smoking. The technology has been acquired from its inventors, including Professor Jed Rose, Ph.D., a leading expert in the field of nicotine addiction research”.

Cessation Support as CSR Strategy

When the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a critical editorial about the University of California accepting tobacco money in 2007, PM’s Senior Director, Communications said in a letter to the editor:16

“Contrary to the statements made in your editorial (“Smoke Gets in UC’s eyes,” May 14), Philip Morris USA supports “rigorous, independent, peer-reviewed research” through its External Research Program and through various grants.

We agree with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers and that smoking is addictive. We believe — as do many in public health — that working to reduce the risk of tobacco use for adults who continue to smoke is an important objective.

Our External Research Program supports independent research that contributes to fundamental scientific knowledge, helps address the concerns of the public-health community regarding cigarette smoking and enables the company to continue its pursuit of products that might reduce the health risks of smoking”.

Funding cessation research and producing cessation tools such as QuitAssist® can be considered examples of CSR Strategy, whereby a company that has been criticised for unethical practices attempts to regain respect by presenting a socially responsible image.
In the case of PM and QuitAssist®, there is a gap between the company’s history of denying that smoking is addictive and its recent efforts to help people to give up. Professor Michael Siegel, who has more than 25 years of experience in tobacco control, criticised PM’s venture into nicotine based cessation products in collaboration with Duke University:17

“When was the last time you heard Philip Morris acknowledge in a courtroom that smoking is extremely addictive? Have you ever heard Philip Morris admit in court that a particular smoker was addicted to nicotine? Has Philip Morris ever acknowledged to the public that the company used ammonia and other ingredients to alter the pH of tobacco smoke in order to enhance the delivery of nicotine?”

RJ Reynolds Professor of Medicine Chair

Duke University also holds a chair in medicine paid for and named after a tobacco company, RJ Reynolds (owned by BAT). Since April 2011, the chair has been held by Mary E. Klotman, M.D. Professor of Medicine. Klotman is described by Duke as “the only female department of medicine chair at a top-five U.S. medical school. She joined Duke in 2010 after spending 13 years as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Mount Sinai Medical Center”. Her research focuses on the origins of the HIV-1 virus.18

Although not accessible without express permission, in the archives of Duke University Medical Center and the Duke University School of Medicine, there is an audio tape concerning all correspondence about the “R.J. Reynolds Professorship in Medical Education, 1967-1987”.19

Revolving Door

There is a history of people holding positions at both RJ Reynolds and Duke University. These ‘revolving door’ positions are testimony to the close relationship between the organisations.

Dr A. Wallace Hayes is one example of revolving door relations between RJ Reynolds and Duke. While working for RJ Reynolds, he was appointed as Research Professor, Department of Medicine and Toxicology Program at Duke University in 1986 and got a similar post at the Medical College of Virginia, Richmond, VA a year later. In 1988, the School of Veterinary Medicine, VPI, Blacksburg, VA also appointed him as a Research Professor.20

A more recent example is that of Dr David J. Doolittle, who, was listed in 2006 as the Principal Scientist and Manager of the Laboratory of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology at RJ Reynolds. He simultaneously held appointments as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Toxicology at Duke University Medical Center, as well as Adjunct Associate Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University, another university close to Reynolds’ headquarters in Winston-Salem in North Carolina.21

Relevant Links

Tobacco Tactics Resources

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  1. William E. King, Duke University, A Brief Narrative History, updated 2018, accessed July 2020
  2. The Duke Endowment, Our History, undated, accessed July 2020
  3. North Carolina Historic Sites, Duke Homestead: Cultivation of a Tobacco Empire, undated, accessed July 2020
  4. Cengage, James Buchanan Duke, encyclopedia.com, updated 22 August 2020, accessed July 2020
  5. Imperial Brands, Our History: The Imperial Tobacco Company (1901), undated, accessed July 2020
  6. British American Tobacco, Our history, undated, accessed July 2020
  7. H.A. Willard, Letter to H. Gilbert Smith, PhD, 1 June 2004, accessed June 2020
  8. Phillip Morris USA, Supporting Cessation – Grants, PM USA website, undated, archived August 2010, accessed May 2012
  9. Phillip Morris USA, Supporting Cessation – Grants, PM USA website, undated, archived May 2012, accessed June 2020
  10. Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research, CNSCR Research, archived February 2012
  11. See for instance: J.E. Rose, J.E. Herskovic, F.M. Behm, E.C. Westman, Precessation treatment with nicotine patch significantly increases abstinence rates relative to conventional treatment, Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 2009;11(9):1067-1075, doi:10.1093/ntr/ntp103; also see list of the Centre’s publications at CSC Publications, which was last updated in 2016.
  12. Philip Morris, About QuitAsist®, Jed E. Rose Ph. D., undated, archived April 2009, accessed June 2020
  13. QuitAssist, About Us, website, undated, accessed May 2020
  14. Health New Zealand, New nicotine cigarette gives rapid lung delivery of nicotine, 1 March 2010, accessed January 2020
  15. PMI International Philip Morris International Enters into a Patent Purchase Agreement of New Technology with the Potential to Reduce the Harm of Smoking, Press Release, 26 May 2011, archived May 2011, accessed July 2020
  16. B. McCormick, Philip Morris responds, San Francisco Chronicle, 24 May 2007, accessed February 2012
  17. M. Siegel, Duke University Sends Message that Philip Morris is Serious About Getting Smokers to Quit; Becomes Public Relations Arm for Big Tobacco, 21 July 2009, archived February 2018, accessed July 2020
  18. Inside Duke Medicine Thanks to generous donor support, 13 SoM and SoN faculty become endowed professors, 9 May 2011, archived May 2011, accessed July 2020
  19. Duke University Medical Center Archives, William G. Anlyan Papers, accessed 1 August 2011
  20. Belle Online Dr. A. Wallace Hayes, 2006, archived August 2006, accessed July 2020
  21. Belle Online Dr. David J. Doolittle, 2005, archived February 2006, accessed July 2020