TUESDAY, March 8, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Tobacco giant Philip Morris paid for and then adjusted a medical review that ultimately downplayed the link between smoking and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), claims a report in the March issue of Pediatrics.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the review was commissioned by Philip Morris and published in a respected journal, Paediatric Perinatal Epidemiology, in 2001. In it, scientists concluded that smoking during pregnancy can endanger the unborn child, but then they cast doubt on a published scientific finding that secondhand smoke increases the risk of SIDS.
Study author Stanton Glantz, director of the UCSF's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, and his co-authors traced the drafts of the original version of the paper, by researchers Frank Sullivan and Sue Barlow, to the final version published in the journal. The drafts included formal comments by Philip Morris executives, made in response to the first draft and given to Sullivan.
The documentation of the changes came from internal memos and reports made public as the result of the Master Settlement Agreement reached in 1998 between the tobacco industry and a number of states.
"We have 40 million pages of previously secret tobacco industry documents," said Glantz. "We found this stuff in there."
Among other changes, Sullivan's first draft concluded that both prenatal and postnatal effects of smoking are independent risk factors for SIDS, according to Glantz. On the final version, Sullivan concluded that postnatal secondhand smoke effects are "less well-established" than prenatal smoking effects.
The changes were made, Glantz said, after comments came from Philip Morris officials.
A subsidiary of Philip Morris, Fabriques de Tabac Reunies in Switzerland, budgeted $50,000 to $100,000 for the completion of the review, Glantz reported.
"What Philip Morris did here was went out and commissioned the study for the purpose of creating doubt and confusion about the fact among physicians and scientists to slow down the rate at which they would tell their patients not to smoke around their kids," Glantz said.
In its response to the new study, Philip Morris USA acknowledged that public health officials have concluded that secondhand smoke from cigarettes causes diseases, including SIDS.
In a prepared statement, it then added, "Philip Morris USA believes that the public should be guided by the conclusions of public health officials regarding the health effects of secondhand smoke" in their decisions about when and where to smoke. It also said that Sullivan had been free to publish whatever he wished, despite the company's comments on the manuscript.
Glantz said the study, done from 1999 to 2001, means the tobacco giant is not abiding by the settlement agreement. Among other terms, it requires tobacco companies not to create controversy about the scientific evidence linking smoking and disease.
Asked if the review violated the agreement, Philip Morris spokeswoman Jennifer Golisch said it did not.
An anti-tobacco advocate lauded the new study by Glantz and blasted the tobacco giant. "This study is critically important," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"It demonstrates that Philip Morris has corrupted scientific research on a vitally important issue relating to the health of unborn children," Myers, an attorney, said.
"Even if Philip Morris seeks to portray itself as reformed and responsible on public health issues, this study demonstrates that Philip Morris paid for scientific research with the goal of supporting their business," Myers said.
Commenting on the statement released by the tobacco giant, Myers added, "What they are saying is inconsistent with the research they funded."
To learn more about keeping kids away from tobacco, visit the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.