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Big Tobacco Accused of Manipulating Study

Report finds heavy behind-the-scenes influence

FRIDAY, Dec. 13, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Nearly 15 years after a landmark Japanese study linked secondhand smoke to cancer, a second study appeared and said the original findings were wrong. Now, a California professor claims the rebuttal study failed to acknowledge the heavy behind-the-scenes influence of the tobacco industry in its production.

While the new report doesn't directly challenge the results of the second smoking study, it does cast doubt on whether its creators were honest about their roles. "We don't really know who's accountable for the work. Those who did the study hid that involvement," says report co-author Lisa A. Bero, a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of California at San Francisco.

However, a tobacco company spokesman defends the study that challenged the link between secondhand smoke and cancer, saying it clearly stated it was supported by tobacco industry funds.

The initial study, which was extremely influential, appeared in 1981. Japanese investigator Takeshi Hirayama found that wives of heavy smokers were twice as likely to die of lung cancer as those of nonsmokers.

The study helped to kick off more than two decades of debate about the risks of secondhand smoke. Among other things, the findings contributed to the limiting of smokers' rights in states across the United States.

Bero, who studies the tobacco industry, became curious about how cigarette companies responded to the negative publicity of the 1981 study. She searched for references to the Hirayama study in reams of internal tobacco industry documents that became public in the late 1990s.

Her findings appear in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal.

Bero found an internal memo from the Philip Morris company in which officials debated whether to directly launch a study to challenge Hirayama's results. Another option would have been to funnel money through an industry-supported organization called the Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR). The memo suggested that "one may wish to use a CIAR cover for this project."

Another internal Philip Morris memo suggests a chief scientist at British American Tobacco could be the "behind-the-scenes" director of the project.

The final study, rejected by at least one medical journal, appeared in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health in 1995. The study argued that secondhand smoking doesn't appear to be a cancer risk for spouses of heavy smokers.

The tobacco industry consultant listed as the study's author acknowledged in print that he received support from tobacco companies. However, Bero alleges the study failed to acknowledge the involvement of a tobacco industry scientist, a tobacco industry law firm and two Japanese researchers.

"We really have to question [research] that had the involvement of the tobacco industry, even when it was disclosed," Bero says. "This study doesn't tell us the full story of how the industry designed and conducted it."

The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the second largest in the United States, was one of those that contributed money to the 1995 study. In a written statement, company spokesman Seth Moskowitz says the research "very clearly" noted the tobacco industry's involvement.

"I don't know who said what to whom. But I do know that, in our opinion, the Hirayama study was seriously flawed," Moskowitz says.

Philip Morris, which also funded the 1995 study, has a policy that its involvement in tobacco studies -- whether direct or indirect -- should be disclosed, says spokesman Brendan McCormick. As for the risks of secondhand smoke, "we think the public should rely on what the public health community has to say," he adds.

What To Do

To read critical views about smoking, try the American Legacy Foundation. Curious about internal tobacco industry documents? Try this database created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Lisa A. Bero, Ph.D., professor, clinical pharmacology, Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco; Seth Moskowitz, spokesman, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Winston-Salem, N.C.; Brendan McCormick, spokesman, Philip Morris, New York City, Dec. 14, 2002, British Medical Journal
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