Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Ethical debateShould industry sponsor research?Tobacco industry research: collaboration, not confrontation, is the best approachTobacco company sponsorship discredits medical but not all researchCondemning the drinks industry rules out potentially useful researchIf the drinks industry does not clean up its act, pariah status is inevitableCollaborative research with infant formula companies should not always be censoredHow much research in infant feeding comes from unethical marketing?

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 01 August 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:333

Should industry sponsor research?

Opinions are divided on whether research and educational material funded by the tobacco, alcohol, or infant formula industries can be scientifically sound or whether it is inevitably tainted. Here, doctors, researchers, and a member of a pressure group argue the pros and cons.

Tobacco industry research: collaboration, not confrontation, is the best approach

  1. Christopher J Proctor (
  1. British American Tobacco, Millbank, Knowle Green, Staines, Middlesex TW18 1DY
  2. University of Essex, Wivenhow Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ
  3. Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA
  4. Addiction
  5. MRC Childhood Nutrition Research Centre, Institute of Child Health, London WC1N 1EH
  6. Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrew's Street, Cambridge CB2 3AX

    Editorial by Smith Letters(p 344 Filler (p 318 News (p 301

    Smoking is strongly associated with several diseases, sufficiently so for public health authorities to say that smoking is a cause of disease and to have warned the public for many years of the dangers of smoking. British American Tobacco respects these actions. Yet science has still to ascertain precise biological mechanisms whereby prolonged exposure to constituents of tobacco smoke causes these diseases. Science has also yet to determine why, for most diseases associated with smoking, the overwhelming majority of lifetime smokers do not contract the diseases, and why there are geographical differences in the incidence of many diseases that are related to smoking.

    The public health conclusion that smoking is a cause of disease can lead to two quite different approaches. One approach determines that nothing can be gained from a greater understanding of the relation between smoking and disease, that no one should smoke, and that all efforts should focus on persuading people not to smoke. The second approach continues to persuade people not to smoke but accepts that smoking is a popular custom and seeks to discover more about the association between smoking and various diseases in order to determine what changes to tobacco products might be introduced to reduce the risks associated with smoking.

    Historically, British governments have taken the second approach, working with tobacco companies and supporting the funding of biomedical research related to tobacco modification. This has led to a greater understanding of smoking behaviour, constituents of smoke, and possible mechanisms …

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