Tobacco company Philip Morris USA, Incorporated has awarded over $16 million in combined grants for tobacco-related research to seven UC campuses – although UCSB is no longer attached to such funding.
As of June 2007, Philip Morris – the only current tobacco industry sponsor of UC scientific endeavors – backed 23 research projects at various University of California institutions. Although UCSB originally received $647,815 for tobacco related research, the recipient, Ratneshwar Lal, recently transferred to the University of Chicago, taking the grant with him.
Lal, a former research scientist at the UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute and now currently the director of the University of Chicago Center for Nanomedicine, said his continuing research – a study of “Smoking-Altered Gap Junction Hemichannel Structure and Activity Modulate Cell Physiology and Viability” – proves the detrimental effects of smoking on the body, focusing on the entry of polluting oxidants into cells.
“What we showed is smoking kills body cells,” Lal said. “Suppose you smoke, it creates oxidant stress, which affects cell behavior.”
With the absence of Lal’s study, UCSB has broken its latest affiliation with Philip Morris, but tobacco industry sponsored research remains a point of contention in the UC system.
While Philip Morris previously provided the UC projects with funding through its external research program, founded in 2000, the program was recently discontinued as confirmed by UC President Robert C. Dynes in a letter to UC chancellors.
However, despite the dissolution of the external research program, Philip Morris USA spokesman Bill Phelps said the company continues to issue grant money.
“We are continuing to fund [tobacco-related research], just not under that program,” Phelps said.
As of September 2007, the UC Board of Regents adopted a resolution – RE-89 – regarding research funding from tobacco companies. The resolution requires internal assessment and specified review, approval and reporting procedures when dealing with tobacco company sponsorship of University research.
Despite the newly adopted resolution, Campaign to Defend Academic Integrity organizer Kimberly Homer said the ethics of such funding remains in question.
“While [the CDAI] thinks the implementation of the new policy is great, it is alarming that the tobacco industry continues to fund research projects,” Homer said. “We advocate that the UC system do not take money from tobacco companies.”
Critics of tobacco company sponsorship of UC research cite cases of fraud of study results as a betrayal of scientific integrity.
According to a 2005 UC press release, Philip Morris allegedly manipulated scientific research and evidence in order to discount the significance of research showing a link between sudden infant death syndrome and second hand cigarette smoke.
However, UC Office of Research Executive Director of Research Policy and Legislation Ellen Auriti said that the UC system adheres to the highest level of scientific standards and is not subject to manipulation at the hands of the tobacco industry.
“Our view is that research is conducted well and under high standards of intellectual honesty, and integrity is in the public interest, because our policies provide for open dissemination and publication of research results,” Auriti said.
Phelps also said the motives of Phillip Morris were scientific in nature and that the company is working for the benefit of scientists and consumers alike.
“We think that the research we have conducted has helped expand the amount of scientific knowledge,” Phelps said.