In the age of privatisation, the source of university research is vital. But the tobacco industry?
It’s an indisputable fact that tobacco is harmful. But is that grounds for the UC regents to ban tobacco industry support for research?
That’s the question before the Board of Regents — and advocates on both sides of the issue are waiting with bated breath for an answer. The regents took up the matter at their Sept. 20 meeting after Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, an ex officio regent, requested a discussion of the university’s policy on accepting funds for research from corporate sponsors associated with the tobacco industry.
UC has received about $29 million in grants from the tobacco industry since 1995. The industry currently supports four active studies at UCLA, Berkeley and Davis, with grant awards totaling some $1.9 million.
In arguing for a ban, Bustamante pointed to a federal district court ruling last August in the District of Columbia that tobacco firms had engaged in a four-decade conspiracy to deceive smokers about tobacco’s health risks. The judge referred to a 2003 UCLA School of Public Health study, funded by Philip Morris USA, which questioned the risk of developing lung cancer from secondhand smoke. Although the study was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal, Bustamante said, its findings conflict with respected state and national studies that point to a strong link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer.
“We should join the 18 universities across the nation, including Harvard, Columbia and the universities of Washington, Arizona and North Carolina, which do not accept tobacco industry funding,” Bustamante told the regents, adding: “Some would argue that considering this policy would lead us down a dangerous, slippery slope.”
What next? The arms industry funding research into violent deaths?