How Big Tobacco Deals with Adverse Research -- and Researchers

A case study in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health shows the extent to which the tobacco industry works to derail research -- and researchers -- that could adversely affect it. The study examines the experiences of University of California cardiology professor Stanton Glantz, who researches a wide range of tobacco-related topics, from the effects of secondhand smoke on the heart, to the reductions in heart attacks observed when smokefree policies are enacted, to how the tobacco industry influences legislation and fights tobacco control programs. Between 1988 and 1998, the industry quietly worked through third parties to denigrate Glantz to his superiors and publicly portray him as extremist, unqualified or politically motivated. They ran ads against him in major newspapers, paid scientists to write letters to publications discrediting his work and formed front groups to try and create the appearance of a grassroots uprising against his work. They brought several lawsuits against Glantz and his institution, and worked through tobacco-friendly legislators to try and cut off federal funding for his research. The authors point out how such extreme attacks by industry can influence policymaking and discourage other scientists from doing work that may expose them to similar attacks. They conclude that the support of scientists' employers is crucial to the continued advancement of public health.