Vote Postponed on Tobacco Research Ban

After contentious debate on academic freedom and manipulation of research, U. of California regents punt.
January 19, 2007

Under current policy, researchers in the University of California system can -- and are encouraged -- to seek corporate support. So it is not surprising that an attempt to block research sponsored by Big Tobacco resulted in a polarizing debate Thursday during a meeting of the Board of Regents’ finance committee. Based partly on evidence found in over 50 million archived online at the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library that show that tobacco companies sought to undermine research proving that smoking was dangerous, the regents first began discussing such a ban last September.

During the discussion on Thursday, some regents expressed strong concerns that cutting off researchers from tobacco money might lead down a slippery slip that would deny support from other corporations. Others pointed out that tobacco companies have used university research to mislead the public about health dangers and that a federal judge ruled that Big Tobacco has engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the American public.

Citing polarizing opinions and the need for further input from the UC's Academic Senate, the committee voted to delay a vote until a meeting in May. Still, the regents confirmed that they will give a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” vote on action item RE89 at the next meeting.

Adopting the action item would ban any funds from manufacturers, distributors, or their affiliates that would be used for studying tobacco related diseases. Text from the item states: “The collective use or sponsored research by the manufacturers and distributors of tobacco products as an industry to support a public deception about its product is unique, unprecedented and represents [a] rare and compelling circumstance.”

Since 1995, UC researchers have pulled in 108 awards totaling $37 million from tobacco companies. In comparison, the UC system received around $4 billion in total contracts and grants in fiscal year 2006. Tobacco companies currently sponsor 19 active UC grants totaling $15.8 million.

Several other institutions have enacted similar bans including Emory University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Ohio State University School of Public Health, and University of Arizona School of Public Health.


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