Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Tobacco Industry Links to Faculties of Medicine in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Tobacco Industry Links to Faculties of Medicine in Canada

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: The tobacco industry uses various strategies to promote itself as a socially responsible, ethical industry, including establishing links with health institutions and medical research. The purpose of this study was to identify the relationships between the tobacco industry and Canadian faculties of medicine, specifically research funding and donations from tobacco industry sources, and faculty-specific policies regarding the acceptance of tobacco industry funds.

Methods: Information about policies and practices regarding research funding and donations from 1996-1999 was requested from the 16 Canadian faculties of medicine and their parent universities, as part of a larger cross-sectional survey-centred study that examined links between the tobacco industry and Canadian universities.

Results: AIM 6 faculties of medicine (100%) reported on research funding and 11/16 (70%) reported on donations from the tobacco industry. Twenty-five percent (4/16) of the faculties received research funding from the tobacco industry and 27% (3/11) received donations. No Canadian medical school had a policy that banned tobacco industry research funding or donations.

Interpretation: The tobacco industry have made donations and given research funding to faculties of medicine in Canada. This may present major conflicts of interest that undermine public health and have implications for the scientific integrity of the medical research enterprise. Faculties of medicine should consider developing policies that prohibit tobacco industry research funding and donations, with the intent of preventing conflicts and precluding ethical dilemmas arising from links with the tobacco industry. They should also encourage parent universities to establish similar policies at an institutional level.

The tobacco industry plays a key role in the global tobacco epidemic. Not only does the industry produce and promote products that caused 4.9 million deaths worldwide in 2000,1 but it also systematically attempts to block effective tobacco control efforts by contributing to the campaigns of legislators,2 sponsoring sports, cultural and community groups,3 pressuring pharmaceutical and other companies,4,5 creating front groups to promote its interests,6,7 coordinating efforts to undermine the findings of medical research about the health damage caused by smoking,8 infiltrating and obstructing the tobacco control activities of the World Health Organization,9 and establishing links with academic institutions, including medical schools.10 Through these varied efforts, the tobacco industry acquires influence, creates confusion about scientific evidence, and promotes itself as a socially responsible, ethical industry.

The tobacco industry links itself with medical schools by giving grants and contracts to researchers, donating directly to medical schools and their parent institutions, and providing scholarships and endowed professorships.11 Individual faculty members also act as consultants to the tobacco industry, as expert witnesses for the industry in legal proceedings, and as reviewers for tobacco industry funding agencies. In addition, tobacco company executives have sat on the boards of hospitals affiliated with medical schools, and officials of hospitals have sat on the boards of tobacco companies.12

Some data on links between the tobacco industry and medical schools in other jurisdictions are available, mostly concerning situations that prevailed prior to 1995. An analysis of papers published from 1988-94 revealed that all medical schools in the United Kingdom but one had accepted tobacco money.13 A survey of medical schools in the United States conducted in the early 1990s reported that 55% had received research funding from the tobacco industry.14 Another survey found that eight of the ten institutions of higher learning with medical faculties in Australia had received research funding from tobacco industry sources from 1991-92. …

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