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University of Virginia Gets an "F" in Tobacco Industry Studies
On February 9, 2007, the University of Virginia (UVa) announced its acceptance of a $25 million gift from cigarette maker Philip Morris, to support biomedical research and "business leadership." In its press release, UVa said the gift created a partnership between PM and the university "in a number of key areas in which they share a common interest."
That a medical school would find common interests with a company whose products kill 440,000 Americans annually is troubling, to say the least. Moreover, an analysis of tobacco industry documents published by the medical journal Academic Medicine in October 2004 clearly shows that the tobacco industry seeks to buy legitimacy by funding research -- biomedical research, in particular. Study author Nathaniel Wander said that he found "PM wanted to be seen to contribute to medical research to counter the image of harm caused by its cigarettes." Such grantmaking has long been a centerpiece of the tobacco industry's decades-long propaganda campaign to keep the public confused about the health hazards of smoking and, more recently, the hazardous effects of secondhand smoke on nonsmokers. In addition, the covert influence of the tobacco industry on academic research is well established.
Philip Morris' internal PR strategies notwithstanding, last August UVa's new "partner" was found guilty in federal District Court of participating in a massive 50-year scheme to lie, conspire and defraud the public about the dangers of smoking. Maybe UVa hasn't read its medical journals or its newspapers lately?
Universities are supposed to be institutions of higher learning. Over the last decade, society has learned a tremendous amount about tobacco industry strategies to defraud and deceive the public, bolster its image and curry favor with legislators by giving grants to selected academics and universities. However, it appears that in its hurry to grab PM's check and run to the bank, UVa hasn't learned anything at all.