In an effort to clear the smoke that arose from anti-tobacco funding presentations made earlier, the University of California Board of Regents instituted a new policy last week that requires campus researchers to approach a peer review committee before accepting any grants from tobacco companies.

Under the policy, adopted in a 14-4 vote, a scientific peer review committee will consider research offers and send recommendations to UC chancellors for approval. This new policy is a compromise of a previously proposed plan by Regent John Moores that would have forced the Universities to refuse all funding from tobacco-related groups unless the research was completely unrelated to issues of tobacco promotion, regulation or use.
Grants accepted before the Sept. 20 policy’s institution are exempt from review.

According to UC Spokesman Paul Schwartz, the committee’s main function is to assist the chancellors in determining which proposals would provide significant and impartial scientific results.

“The scientific review committee would be charged with advising the relevant chancellor regarding whether a proposed study uses sounds methodology and appears designed to allow the researcher to reach objective and scientifically valid conclusions,” Schwartz said in a written statement.

Prior to the adoption of the new approval procedures, UC researchers were allowed to accept any funds that met general university policies. According to a press release from the UC Office of the President, researchers at seven UC campuses, including UC Santa Barbara, held 23 active grants from donors like Philip Morris USA, totaling $16 million at the end of the 2006-07 fiscal year.

However, in a written statement, UCSB Vice Chancellor for Research Michael Witherell said the campus no longer receives any research funds directly from the tobacco industry. Therefore, he said, the new policy is not likely to have a harmful effect on university activities.

“UCSB has had research funded by tobacco company support in the past, but we have no awards currently active,” Witherell said. “We do have research funded from the UC Tobacco-Related Disease [Research] Program, which is supported by the state check off fund. For this reason, we do not expect the new policy to have a significant effect on research funding at UCSB.”

The new policy consists of two other components in addition to the oversight committees that will comprise of various campus scholars. The policy requires universities to inform the regents of research funding from the tobacco industry though an annual report, and for the regents to prepare statements to researchers urging them to maintain academic freedom and professional ethics.

Schwartz said the new policy seeks to quiet critics who claim that research funded by a private interest group will produce biased results.

“[The regents encourage] university researchers to exercise the utmost care to assure that their research adheres to the highest scientific and ethical standards, including vigilance in not allowing any funder to direct or control the outcome of their research or the dissemination of its results,” Schwartz said.