Letters

It's folly to allow the enemy access to your camp

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7033.774 (Published 23 March 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:774
  1. Martin J Connolly*
  1. Senior lecturer Department of Geriatric Medicine, University of Manchester, Barnes Hospital, Cheadle, Cheshire SK8 2NY

    EDITOR,—John Roberts and Richard Smith cite a variety of arguments to support their assertion that medical journals should not ban research sponsored by the tobacco industry.1 Their comparison between research sponsored by tobacco companies and that sponsored by drug companies (and the suggestion that some of the latter might be “suspect”) is invalid. In contrast to tobacco, drug company products can be shown to have some beneficial effect. In certain circumstances side effects may outweigh these, but formal licensing and monitoring arrangements exist, which, if applied to tobacco, would have resulted in its withdrawal 30 years ago. Drug companies do not produce and market substances that they know have no medically beneficial effect, and competition between rival companies is often the basis of medical advance. This cannot be said of the tobacco industry.

    A further specious comparison made by Roberts and Smith is that it might be equally unacceptable to receive government money acquired through “unjust taxation policies.” This, unlike the fact that tobacco kills people, involves a value judgment. I would not suggest that journal editors become involved in personal value judgments. Clearly, however, they are able to recognise the medical facts about tobacco.

    Perhaps the most superficially compelling argument in the editorial is the assertion that a ban on the publication of research supported by the tobacco industry is not compatible with the ideal of freedom of information and might even result in an unbalanced scientific conclusion. If the tobacco industry were at all interested in a valid scientific conclusion this would be a reasonable argument. When collectively the industry is prepared to enter into reasoned scientific debate then medical publishing should be prepared to give some credence to its efforts. Organisations or individuals who do not meet these criteria should be treated as the enemies of medicine, health, and truth. It is surely folly deliberately to allow the enemy access to your camp.

    Footnotes

    • * Martin J Connolly receives sponsorship (of about pounds sterling30000) from the pharmaceutical industry. More than half of his patients have disorders related to smoking, and both of his parents died of diseases related to smoking.

    References

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