US: Some Campuses Decide Tobacco Company Money Is 'Tainted'

Publisher Name: 
The New York Times

Officials at the University of Texas business school in Austin became uneasy when they realized that a
reliable donor to student activities - the parent company of the
tobacco maker Philip Morris - wanted a more prominent role in
sponsoring events, and more interaction with students.

the school decided two months ago to draw a line, and refuse all
tobacco money for student groups, as well as for faculty research.

it came down to for us was the ethical dimension," said George W. Gau,
dean of the Texas school, the McCombs School of Business. "The
leadership of the school felt that in some sense it was tainted money,
that it is money gotten from a product that is significantly harming

Across academia, universities and graduate schools are
wrestling with whether to accept financing from tobacco companies for
research or student activities. In the past few years, 15 public health
and medical schools have turned away donations from the industry;
McCombs' move was unusual because of its longstanding ties to an array
of corporations.

But on some campuses, faculty who get tobacco
money for research grants have led pitched battles over proposed bans.
Last spring, because of such faculty opposition, Stanford University and regents of the University of California system rejected prohibitions on tobacco dollars.

faculty members argued that the restrictions would infringe on academic
freedom and lead to fights over money from other potentially
controversial sources, like liquor, pharmaceutical or oil companies.
They said that even if tobacco companies financed research, professors
would guard their independence and not permit the companies to
influence their results.

"We take funding from corporations, from
the Department of Defense, from many, many sources, but ultimately the
responsibility for the science belongs to the faculty member who did
the science," said Robert C. Dynes, president of the University of
California system.

The California Board of Regents decided in
September that rather than ban tobacco money, it would require research
financed by tobacco companies to be approved by the chancellor on each

The origins of the movement to ban tobacco money are
traced to Australia, where nearly 20 universities stopped accepting
money from the industry during the 1990s, said Stanton A. Glantz, a
professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the University
of California, San Francisco medical school. Dr. Glantz was among the
prime proponents of a tobacco ban in the California university system.

also received a nudge from the American Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit
group created as part of a $206 billion settlement in 1998 of a lawsuit
filed by 46 states against the tobacco industry. The foundation,
dedicated to reducing tobacco use, awards research and other grants to
universities, but only if the unit of the university seeking financing
does not accept tobacco money.

The medical school at Emory University and the public health schools at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Ohio State, Louisiana State and the Universities of Arizona, Iowa and North Carolina have also banned tobacco money.

of bans often argue that universities should stop accepting tobacco
money not only because of the public health impact of smoking, but
because of what they view as the industry's misuse of scientific
research to confuse consumers about the risks of smoking and
second-hand smoke.

"The argument for rejecting funding is that
the tobacco industry has a 50-plus-year history of a corrupting
influence on medical research," said Dr. Michael J. Thun, the chief of
epidemiological research at the American Cancer Society.

Philip Morris says the money it donates for research is given with no strings attached.

we make those grants, the control of the grant is by the researchers,
and we ask them to publish their results and to make sure to make
public that we funded it," said Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Philip
Morris U.S.A., the largest tobacco company in the United States. "We
think that the research we've funded has contributed to the base of
scientific knowledge." He declined to disclose how much the company
spends on research grants.

Philip Morris is currently financing
one research project at the University of Texas at Austin, a
three-year, $455,000 effort to study how certain toxic compounds in
cigarette smoke react with DNA, causing damage that can lead to cancer.
Jennifer S. Brodbelt, a chemist who is a researcher on the study, said
the company has had no role in the research.

"We are all
struggling to maintain our research programs," Dr. Brodbelt said. "If
we can find new sources to support meritorious research, I say let's
make the most of it."

Some of the nearly $150,000 that Philip
Morris or its parent company, the Altria Group, gave to the McCombs
school in recent years helped support two research centers. But most of
the money went to student groups and activities, from the Hispanic
Business Students Association to a conference on women in business

Because Philip Morris recruits employees from the
business school - an activity not affected by the ban - it wants to
support student events and educational programs, said Mr. Phelps, the
company spokesman. The company donates money for similar activities at
several dozen colleges and universities, he said.

department chairmen and deans at the business school had become
uncomfortable with the company's role, and in particular its desire for
more interaction with undergraduates. Some wondered whether giving the
company more prominence on campus would suggest that the university was
in some way endorsing it, said Dr. Gau, the dean.

Paula C.
Murray, associate dean for undergraduate programs at McCombs, was among
those who pushed for the ban. "We know the product is deadly," she
said. "We know it causes cancer. And we know that the younger you start
smoking, the more likely you will find it hard to quit. With two-thirds
of our undergraduates under 21, to me it's a no-brainer."

"Just because it's green," Ms. Murray added, "we don't have to take it."

AMP Section Name:Tobacco
  • 182 Health