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Almost anyone toiling at the coal face of tobacco control knows the name of Ragnar Rylander, and for the most alarming of reasons. Therefore, how could the Swedish scientist have been appointed to the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks of the European Commission, the secretariat of the European Union? How could advisers to Health Commissioner David Byrne, renowned for his strong leadership on tobacco control, have failed to note the widespread publicity given to Rylander over recent years? This was especially notorious in the period when he was first exposed for his longstanding, covert association with Philip Morris, then his defamation case against his detractors, and finally their successful appeal.
After that, one would have thought he might have quietly retired, say to a remote Swedish lakeside retreat, to contemplate his years of secret service to the corporate corruptors of the scientific literature, especially on passive smoking. Instead, Rylander not only put himself forward for appointment, but robustly denied any wrongdoing when health agencies began a campaign of protest letters to Commissioner Byrne last July. He even tried to telephone some of those behind the campaign, apparently unable to understand that the appeal court judgement mentioning his “scientific cheating without equal” and his lack of hesitation to “abuse science in the interests of capitalistic profit”, might be fair cause for their concern.
The result of the appointment, when the news became known among health groups around the world, was a barrage of protest letters to Commissioner Byrne, and presumably, some fairly red faces in Brussels. The wheels of bureaucracy creaked into action to investigate the appointment, and in October, the EU Commission adopted a decision to revoke it.
As to how the appointment could ever have happened, one answer may lie in that familiar problem whereby those guarding the corridors of power have little detailed knowledge of what goes on outside in the real world, and most important, fail to consult those who do. It can only be hoped that this time, some hard lessons will be learned. With millions of tobacco industry documents now available—including, incidentally, over 16 000 relating to Rylander—and communication between health advocates around the world easier and quicker than in anyone’s wildest dreams just a decade ago, it now takes only moments to check out the credentials of almost all individuals being considered for such posts, especially when their credentials are unclear. If only they had just asked…