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The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) is the official voice of over 8,000 physicians in Alberta (Canada) and represents more than 97% of physicians in the province. In September, the AMA adopted its addiction medicine section’s position in opposing the involvement of and/or sponsorship by the tobacco industry in any activity—especially research—at Alberta universities, colleges and medical research institutions. Physicians are aware of the enormous current and future health costs of tobacco on their patients; and many are also aware of the unethical conduct of the tobacco industry and its history of denial, obfuscation and deceit over the harmful effects of its products. The membership’s response to this resolution was overwhelmingly positive.
The University of Alberta, the largest post-secondary institution in the province, recently appointed a staff member who was in possession of an unrestricted grant of US$1.5 million from the US Smokeless Tobacco Company, to its school of public health. Arguments exist to support such acceptance of tobacco industry funding, including academic freedom, the constant need for research funding, the existence of ethical procedures to promote rigour, the fact that tobacco is a “legal product”, and the use of this money for the advancement of knowledge rather than profits.
However, with adoption of the new resolution, the acceptance of tobacco industry funding by the University of Alberta is opposed by the AMA, and there are other indications of dissent with the partnership between academia and the tobacco industry at the university. Its board of governors previously refused a donation for scholarships of nearly $500,000 from an undisclosed tobacco manufacturer. The students’ union determined they no longer wished to profit from selling tobacco, and removed tobacco products from their shops. Most recently, a member of the faculty of medicine and dentistry was screened out of consideration for federal research funding because of an inability to declare that the department did not, or during the course of the research would not, accept tobacco industry funding.