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How Big Tobacco Tells Its Side of the Story

Industry finances journal that prints secondhand smoke reports, study finds

THURSDAY, Feb. 24, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The tobacco industry has set up its own scientific journal that publishes reports tending to support its views on the damage done by secondhand smoke, Australian researchers say.

"The journal would seem to be a place where industry-funded scientists can get their work published," said Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney. "Published work can then be publicized by the tobacco industry's formidable PR machine."

Chapman is lead author of a paper in this week's issue of The Lancet that uses internal tobacco industry documents made available by the Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco companies and American states to describe the establishment of the International Society of the Built Environment, which publishes its own journal, Indoor and Built Environment.

The Master Settlement Agreement, reached in 1998, required tobacco companies to pay the states $206 billion, to finance a $1.5 billion anti-smoking campaign and to disband trade groups that dispute scientific evidence about the health damage caused by smoking.

However, the settlement papers also describe a meeting in March 1987, at which tobacco industry personnel from the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and Germany considered how to "improve the industry's position" on secondhand smoking and concluded that "more industry-sponsored research [was] needed" and that an industry-sponsored journal might be needed to get such research printed.

Two months later, tobacco giant Philip Morris USA proposed a program, one part of which was to "establish a genuine scientific journal on indoor air quality."

That journal first appeared in May 1991, and is still being published by the Switzerland-based International Society of the Built Environment.

"The society's executive has been dominated by paid consultants to the tobacco industry; all six members in 1992 and seven of eight members in 2002 had histories of financial associations with the tobacco industry," Chapman and his colleagues reported.

As for content, "61% of papers related to environmental tobacco smoke published in Indoor and Built Environment in the study period reached conclusions that could be judged to be industry-positive," the report said. "Of these, 90% had at least one author with a history of association with the tobacco industry."

"The Lancet study demonstrates that the tobacco industry lawyers organized what can only be described as an international conspiracy to systematically undermine the scientific consensus linking secondhand smoke to serious disease," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Establishment of the journal was part of a larger campaign "to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the public" about the damage done by secondhand smoke, Myers said.

Just last month, a report in The Lancet by the Center for Tobacco Control, Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, described how several papers questioning the genetic damage done by secondhand smoke were published in the journal Mutagenesis. The researchers who wrote the papers and the editor-in-chief of the journal had undisclosed ties to the tobacco industry, that report said.

"In the United States, the industry has claimed that it has changed," Myers said. "The new study demonstrates that the tobacco industry continues to engage in the same wrongful deception around the world."

A spokesperson for Philip Morris did not respond to a request for comment.

More information

A detailed description of the damage done by secondhand smoke is given by the National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Simon Chapman, Ph.D, professor, public health, University of Sydney, Australia; Matthew L. Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, D.C.; Feb. 26, 2005, The Lancet
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