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Public health scientists should be aware of the motives of research sponsors and their potential impact on health
Concern over commercial sponsorship of medical research is at an all time high these days. As academic medical schools become increasingly dependent on financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry, for example, there have been calls for more stringent standards for research contracts and public disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.1 But, so far, severing industry ties completely has not been considered as a serious option.
The case with tobacco, however, is different. A small but growing number of academic institutions (most recently the Harvard School of Public Health and the Arizona College of Public Health) have approved official policies prohibiting their faculty from receiving financial support from tobacco companies and their affiliates. Some prominent funding agencies have also taken a stand. The Wellcome Trust, the American Legacy Foundation, the Public Health Association of Australia, and the National Cancer Institute of Canada will not fund researchers who concurrently receive tobacco industry funding or support. Cancer Research UK is currently considering adopting a similar policy.
Indeed, the tobacco industry is fundamentally different from, say, the chemical or pharmaceutical industries. While Big Tobacco does not have a monopoly on impure science, it is the undeniable leader in organised subterfuge and manipulation of the scientific process. Over half a century, the industry has used quasi-scientific organisations, such as …