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Research on Youth Smoking for the Tobacco Industry

UC Continues to Act in Secrecy, Doing Research on Youth Smoking for the Tobacco Industry

By Leland Yee, Ph.D.
Assistant President pro Tem
California State Senate

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times uncovered a smoldering controversy regarding tobacco industry funded research at the University of California (UC). It is puzzling how, in good conscience, the UC can accept such money from a company with an extensive and documented history of marketing their addictive product to teens.

In fact, in August 2006, a federal court condemned the tobacco industry’s grant research programs as self-serving investments designed to mislead the public and distort public policy. In addition, the US President’s Cancer Panel recommends that recipients of National Cancer Institute grants be prohibited from accepting money from the tobacco industry. Furthermore, prestigious institutions across the world have declared that taking money from the tobacco industry for research is against the mission and purpose of their university.

In spite of this overwhelming condemnation of tobacco industry dollars supporting research, in September the UC Board of Regents ignored the findings of legal and academic experts and voted to continue to do business with the tobacco industry through research grant funding.

Throughout the year-long debate on the issue of tobacco industry funding of research, the UC administration continually argued that the research conducted through tobacco industry-funded grants is transparent. This public university system claims that there is no need to deny tobacco funding or add special provisions to industry grants because all grants are open for the public to see.

Despite this argument, tobacco industry-funded research grants at UC have been anything but transparent. UCLA, mentioned in the federal racketeering case against the U.S. tobacco industry, is once again at the center of the conflict by refusing to open their tobacco-industry research to the public eye. The original controversy involved a tobacco-funded UCLA researcher’s conclusion that secondhand smoke was not harmful. This claim is exploited by the tobacco industry and used to defend smoking-related lawsuits throughout the world. The most recent dilemma involves $6 million Philip Morris USA-funded grant to establish the Adolescent Smoking Cessation Center at UCLA.

UCLA has denied formal requests for information about its Adolescent Smoking Cessation Center. After receiving pressure, UCLA finally agreed to hand over a copy of the grant proposal to members of the public, but the University redacted a majority of the proposal with the exception of background information and budget justifications.

The level of redaction is alarming on a number of levels. First and foremost, Philip Morris – the world’s largest cigarette company and maker of the brand most popular with minors, has firsthand access to why and how youth get addicted and stay addicted to tobacco, yet a taxpayer-funded university will not share public information with interested citizens or public health professionals. This secrecy, on behalf of tobacco giant Philip Morris, leads to speculation that the UC is doing something it doesn’t want the general public to know about.

It cannot be ignored that youth smoking prevention programs funded by the tobacco giant actually promote youth addiction to tobacco rather than prevent it.

It is long overdue for the University of California – a public, taxpayer supported system – to stop doing their business in secret and it is even more imperative that they stop doing research on youth smoking for the tobacco industry.

Leland Yee is a member of the California State Senate Democratic Leadership team and the Assistant President pro Tem of the Senate. Senator Yee is also a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley.

Posted on February 19, 2008

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