Philip Morris seeks to force university to hand over confidential health research into teenage smokers
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Thursday, 1 September 2011
The world’s largest tobacco company is attempting to gain access to confidential information about British teenagers’ smoking habits.
Philip Morris International, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is seeking to force a British university to reveal full details of its research involving confidential interviews with thousands of children aged between 11 and 16 about their attitudes towards smoking and cigarette packaging.
The demands from the tobacco company, made using the UK’s Freedom of Information law, have coincided with an internet hate campaign targeted at university researchers involved in smoking studies.
One of the academics has received anonymous abusive phone calls at her home at night. She believes they are prompted by an organised campaign by the tobacco industry to discredit her work, although there is no evidence that the cigarette companies are directly responsible. Philip Morris says it has a “legitimate interest” in the information, but researchers at Stirling University say that handing over highly sensitive data would be a gross breach of confidence that could jeopardise future studies.
The researchers also believe that the requests are having a chilling effect on co-operation with other academics who fear that sharing their own unpublished data with Stirling will lead to it being handed over to the tobacco industry.
Philip Morris International made its first Freedom of Information (FOI) request anonymously through a London law firm in September 2009. However, the Information Commissioner rejected the request on the grounds that that law firm, Clifford Chance, had to name its client.
Philip Morris then put in two further FOI requests under its own name seeking all of the raw data on which Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing has based its many studies on smoking knowledge, attitudes and behaviour in children and adults.