Professor vs. Tobacco Industry

Originally posted September 6, 2011

Sorry for the lack of postings lately, I got married on September 2 and time was limited in the run up to the day. I meant to write this post last week but time didn’t permit it. So with no further ado…

The Scotsman reports that Professor Gerard Hastings, of Stirling University’s Centre for Tobacco Control Research, is accusing the tobacco industry of being a “pariah industry” because Philip Morris is using the Freedom of Information Act to request Hastings’ research methodologies into his studies on teenage smoking. Specifically the research is examining why teenagers start smoking and what they think of marketing by tobacco companies.

It’s not an unreasonable request for a company to want access to information that affects its business, in fact most would consider it perfectly normal. Especially today, with the hysteria around smoking and the fact that ‘researchers’ are looking for creating results to increase smoking bans or otherwise make it difficult to smoke. While normal people wouldn’t deem it inappropriate, Hastings is refusing to release the information and is accusing Philip Morris of undermining research:

It’s not bad PR we’re talking about, it’s people dying in their droves. This is a pariah industry which is doing the most appalling things. This is not new – Philip Morris has been doing this (submitting FoIs] for a long time. It’s a well-established modus operandi to try and find out as much as possible.

As though it’s wrong for the company to find out as much about research as possible. Hastings simply falls back onto the well-worn rhetoric of how bad the industry is because of people dying from smoking, which has nothing to do with the request for the information.

Just to clarify what it was Philip Morris is after:

We are not seeking any private or confidential information on any individuals involved with the research. As provided by the Freedom of Information Act, confidential and private information concerning individuals should not be disclosed.

Hastings is refusing to hand over the information despite the fact that the FOI request was accepted as valid, and his decision smacks as someone with something to hide. When a researcher from a tobacco control centre conducts research into smoking and refuses to release methodologies then they are open to scrutiny of not being honest in their approach or results, or both. If the research is well constructed with nothing to hide, Hastings should be all too happy to release it.

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