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Tobacco Company Funds UCLA Study on Teen Smoking

posted 06:01 AM EST, Sat February 09, 2008
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Tobacco Company Funds UCLA Study on Teen Smoking © Photo: AMagill

Activists and scientists have criticized UCLA for accepting 6 million in research funding from tobacco company, Phillip Morris.

Should universities or public health institutions accept research grant money from tobacco companies - companies proposing research that they could never ethically complete themselves?

Do the motivations of the donor matter if the research team and university believe the experiments have the potential to better the understanding of addiction, and could lead to life-saving treatments?

No easy answers but plenty of controversy, mostly centered on UCLA, where professor Edythe London leads a research team looking at nicotine addiction, in a study funded by tobacco giant Phillip Morris.

London, a respected scientist and researcher, leads a clinical team using MRI and PET imaging scans to better understand the processes of addiction on the still developing brain – using hardened smokers as young as 14. London will also use animal model experiments, giving liquid nicotine to monkeys and later dissecting the brains of these study animals.

Critics call London naïve for accepting tobacco money for research on teen smokers. Michael Cummings, a senior researcher at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, praised London as a good scientist, but said the he was "shocked that she would take the money". Critics claim that tobacco companies fund this type of research to design more addictive products, a claim London denies, stating, "The representatives of Philip Morris were very sincere."

Roberto Peccei, the vice chairman of research at UCLA, claims that the motivations of the funding source are immaterial, as long as the research is done ethically, for good reason and serves to enrich understanding.

UCLA has drawn further criticisms for seemingly attempting to hide funding details after activists requested the information. The university acknowledges secrecy, but explains that they are reluctant to release details for fear of the safety of researchers performing animal studies. Numerous UCLA researchers have been threatened in the past year.

Phillip Morris contacted London with the idea for the study. The tobacco company funds research 23 separate research projects at 7 US universities.

William Phelps of Phillip Morris, when questioned on whether the company funded research to develop more addictive cigarettes said "We would never do that."

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