Influencing Science: Funding Scientists

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The tobacco industry has a history of funding scientists, both covertly and overtly:

The Whitecoat Project

Restore the Social Acceptability of Smoking

In the late 1980s, Philip Morris, working with its lawyers Covington and Burling, outlined a covert pan-European plan to use independent scientists in their fight against regulations on second-hand smoke, called Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) by the industry. Whitecoat’s objectives were both ‘proactive’ and ‘reactive’. The end goal of the project was to “resist and roll back smoking restrictions” but also to “restore social acceptability of smoking”. 1

“Sustain Controversy”

PM’s secret method of recruiting so-called independent scientists for the project is laid out in various documents. One is BAT scientist Dr Sharon Boyce, who attended a “special meeting” on London in 1998: 2

The Philip Morris philosophy of ETS was presented. This appeared to revolve around the selection, in all possible countries, of a group of scientists either to critically review the scientific literature on ETS to sustain controversy, or to carry out research on ETS. In each country a group of scientists would be carefully selected, and organised by a national coordinating scientist.

No Previous Connections to Tobacco

The scientists “should, ideally, according to Philip Morris, be European scientists who have had no previous connections with tobacco companies and who have no previous record on the primary health issue which might … lead to problems of attribution. The mechanism by which they identify their consultants is as follows: they ask a couple of scientists in each country … to produce a list of potential consultants. The scientists are then contacted by these coordinators or by the lawyers and asked if they are interested in problems of Indoor Air Quality: tobacco is not mentioned at this stage. CV’s are obtained and obvious “anti-smokers” or those with “unsuitable backgrounds” are filtered out…”

Philip Morris then expect the group of scientists to operate within the confines of decisions taken by PM scientists to determine the general direction of research, which apparently would then be ‘filtered’ by lawyers to eliminate areas of sensitivity.

Boyce’s notes include a list of 18 scientists, mostly at British universities, who were suggested as possible consultants.

“Instead of Second-Hand Smoke, What about Pet Birds as a Cause of Cancer?”

By 1990, Covington and Burling boasted of its successes of the Whitecoat project. “One consultant is an adviser to a particularly relevant committee of the House of Commons”. Another was recruited as an editor of the Lancet. A third was “providing medical advise to Middle eastern Governments”. One other consultant conducted “research into factors other than passive smoking that cause lung cancer – keeping pet birds”. 3 4

Duke University

Other examples of the industry funding scientists are more overt, see for instance the page detailing Duke University and the Tobacco Industry. This university in the US has two ‘RJ Reynolds chairs’, one for Medicine, and one for Medical Education.
The University also accepted multi-million dollar funding from Philip Morris to establish the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research (CNSCR). In return for the funding, the director of Duke’s Nicotine Research Center sits on the Advisory Board of Philip Morris’ “Smoker Cessation Support Initiative” (for details and sources, see Duke University and the Tobacco Industry) and Jed E. Rose.
While these examples could be categorised as Philanthropy and CSR Strategy, showing how much-criticised companies attempt to present themselves as good citizens, the relationship between the tobacco industry and medical doctors is seen by many as problematic, as it throws up issues concerning revolving doors and conflicts of interest.

TobaccoTactics Resources

Others who received funding from the industry:

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  1. Philip Morris, Proposal for the Organisation of the Whitecoat Project, Undated
  2. Dr. Sharon Boyse, Note On a Special Meeting Of the UK Industry on Environmental Tobacco Smoke London, 17 February 1998
  3. Clare Dyer, “US tobacco firm paid scientists as stooges”, The Guardian, 14 May 1998
  4. ASH, Philip Morris and Passive Smoking, Undated
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