The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

FCAer calls on university to remove online industry-funded studies

OxyRomanie President Pascal DiethelmThe President of OxyRomandie, Pascal Diethelm, is calling on the University of Zurich to remove from its website two scientific papers sponsored by tobacco giant Philip Morris.

The university published the papers in 2014. They conclude that plain packaging had no discernable effect on smoking rates among the young in Australia and that the measure is thus ineffective. The papers’ findings were also widely circulated in the media.

However, neither paper was peer reviewed, and Philip Morris demanded to review the final study before the results could be published.

(Plain packaging, in which companies’ branding is completely removed from tobacco packs, was introduced in Australia in 2012. On 3 March the Irish Parliament voted to go ahead with the measure and the UK Parliament is expected to vote on plain packaging this month.)

Seven serious errors

Mr Diethelm, who is also FCA’s Geneva Representative, wrote to the university citing seven serious errors and issues in the study that undermine its findings, biasing it against public health. He called on the university to withdraw the papers from its website.

Otherwise, Philip Morris and the wider tobacco industry could continue presenting them as scientifically authoritative sources endorsed by a respectable academic institution, he argued, as they have done in their responses to the UK consultation on plain packaging in 2014.

“We want the papers to be retracted because they are defective,” said Mr Diethelm. “This is clearly another instance where the tobacco industry is corrupting academic research by financing biased results that end up in their favour, and by presenting the results in a misleading way.”

As reported in an online article in The Guardian a group of doctors also said that “both of these papers are flawed in conception as well as design, but have none the less been widely publicised as cautionary tales”.

At the time of writing the university had forwarded Mr Diethelm’s comments to an external expert for consideration.

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