By Anne Landman on December 04, 2009

The University of Colorado at Boulder has accepted a $12.1 million grant from cigarette maker Philip Morris (PM) to put on "Life Skills Training" (LST) programs in middle schools, nominally aimed at reducing students' use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

Notwithstanding that a federal court in 2006 found Philip Morris guilty of engaging in 50 years of public fraud and racketeering, a 2006 peer-reviewed study of tobacco industry documents conducted by the University of California San Francisco's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education looked at why tobacco companies so robustly promote Life Skills Training. They found that since 1999, PM and Brown & Williamson have both worked to disseminate Life Skills Training programs into schools across the country. Why? As part of their effort, the two companies hired a public relations firm to evaluate the program. The evaluation showed that LST was not effective at reducing smoking, after either the first or second year of implementing the program. Despite this, the tobacco companies have continued to eagerly award grants to implement the program.

The tobacco companies' efforts to promote LST were found to be part of a larger public relations strategy to build credibility for the industry by shifting the “youth smoking paradigm” away from medically-based school health programs (that blame the industry's behavior for illness) and instead toward programs that do not criticize the industry, and in which the industry can more freely partner.

The American Public Health Association has also examined the tobacco industry's philanthropic tendencies and found them to be at odds with the goals of public health.

With all the insight we now have into Philip Morris' strategic use of philanthropy to shift public focus off the industry as a problem, boost credibility and promote public acceptance of PM's corporate goals, we have to wonder why U.C. Boulder chose to tarnish its image by taking Philip Morris' cash. You would think a major university would be smarter than this.

Comments

Thank you dearly for clarifying this point to me. I was recently asked to implement the Life Skills Training curriculum with a group of middle school students. However, i felt completely unsettled with the proposition. Intitially, I gave it the benefit of the doubt by reading through its Training Manual just to see what it was about. In some ways, it seemed quite benign and convincing. When I looked at the bibliography it uses though, I was replused by Botvin's self adoration. Every reference he cites is an article written by him. Duh? Wouldn't communities, school districts, government agencies think twice about implementing a program that is self-adulating? I searched and searched for criticisms for "lst", and let me tell you, you were hard to find. Luckily, I didn't give up. Now I understand more fully what's going on behind closed doors. At least, now I will feel much more comfortable possibly using the curriculum to turn it on its own three-legged self.

Shame on the non-profit I work for to easily grasp anything that dangles in front of its eyes. Shame on our government. Shame on the NIH. Shame on Botvin. Shame on us.