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The tobacco industry and education and science organisations in New Zealand
  1. GEORGE THOMSON
  1. 128 Glanmire Road, Newlands, Wellington New Zealand. research{at}xtra.co.nz

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    Editor,—The New Zealand Smoke-Free Environments Act 1990 bans most forms of tobacco advertising and of sponsorship (Ss 22–28 as amended). Nevertheless many other forms of association between the tobacco industry and New Zealand organisations are possible, including investment and unpublicised funding.

    Links with other organisations may help provide the tobacco industry with legitimacy, information, contacts, influence, and investment funds. Association with education and science is particularly prized by the industry.1-3 Of the forms of association possible, research funding by the tobacco industry is one of the points of contention.2 4 5 The debate on funding is part of a wider discussion about the relationship between business and science. The debate is influenced by new information on tobacco industry practices,6 the shift by the industry in some countries towards indirect promotion,3 and the move away from attempts to promote health by cooperation with the industry.7 These and other elements are in some places changing expert8 and public opinion on associations with the tobacco trade.

    To investigate local attitudes on such relationships, I made a preliminary study of the policies of universities and selected government agencies in New Zealand. In November and December 1997 I contacted four government ministers and the seven New Zealand universities by letter. They were asked if they had, or intended to have, policies on the association of their organisations with tobacco-related businesses. The minister of health was asked about his ministry’s advice to other parts of government, regarding the association of educational and scientific bodies with tobacco-related companies.

    The replies generally indicated a lack of policy. Of the seven universities contacted, five (Auckland, Lincoln, Massey, Otago, and Victoria University of Wellington) said they had no formal policies on associating with tobacco-related businesses. However Otago was “unaware of any involvement or interaction with the tobacco industry, either current or in the past”. Waikato University said it “would not agree to be associated with any research which was not in the public interest”. Canterbury University stated that they “did not accept funds from tobacco companies and have little contact or association with them” and “the University does not invest in tobacco companies”.

    The Ministry of Education, for its minister, stated that “the Government does not have any formal policies relating to the association of education institutions and tobacco companies”. The minister of research, science and technology wrote that his ministry “has no policies . . . regarding the association of science research bodies with tobacco-related companies or organisations”. The minister for Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) also had no relevant policies, but wrote that he was advised “that no CRI has undertaken research for any tobacco-related or cigarette manufacturing company for at least three years. CRIs would not usually undertake contracted work if it created a potential conflict of interest with other work.” The associate minister of health referred to the comments of the minister for CRIs, and endorsed them.

    One of the directions for tobacco control work is the isolation of the tobacco industry from its support bases. A step towards this could be the formation, by organisations, of policies on their association with the industry. These policies could cover issues such as investment ties,9 the shared employment of people with the industry,10 and the public auditing of any research proposal involving tobacco industry funds.

    The policies would serve several purposes. At a general level they would recognise the implications of involvement with an industry whose product is addictive and commonly fatal when used as the makers intend. More specifically the policies would counter some of the potential or present effects of misuse by the industry of the scientific,1 11 12 artistic, legal, and political processes.13 14 Those institutions that receive tobacco industry funding, or share people and resources with the industry, risk being perceived as less likely to oppose tobacco use. There is a further risk that research funding may be used to divert attention from tobacco dangers, or to help create doubt about those dangers.

    Perhaps most importantly, a lack of adequate policy also exposes organisations to the risk that the industry will use linkages with them to promote its own respectability, credibility, legitimacy, and “innocence by association”.2 Such use of association can be crucial, as “both the uptake and the continuance of smoking are influenced very strongly by societal norms, and these norms are influenced by the perceived position that tobacco companies hold in society”.15

    References

    Smokes in the movies. Nick Nolte, as detective Jack Cates in the 1982 movie “48 Hours” (left), and as villain Jake McKenna in Oliver Stone’s 1997 thriller “U turn” (right).

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