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UC Class Debates Tobacco Industry Funds

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday October 09, 2007

Anti-tobacco advocate Stan Glantz spoke about tobacco money and tainted research at the University of California at last Tuesday’s Talkin’ Tobacco De-Cal class at UC Berkeley. 

On Sept. 20, UC Regents voted to continue accepting tobacco industry funding for scientific research but stated that such funding would require more oversight. 

In the wake of UC Berkeley’s accepting a $500 million biofuel research grant from oil giant BP, the issue of whether UC should continue to accept research funds from the tobacco industry has sparked debate on campus. 

Facilitated by students Betty Yang and Laura Miller, the class aims to coordinate on-campus anti-tobacco advocacy events this semester. Others involved in the class include Project TOBAC (Tobacco Out of Berkeley And Cal), UC Berkeley University Health Services and the City of Berkeley Tobacco Prevention Program. 

Marcia Brown-Machen, the city’s tobacco prevention program director, said that students would pressure the UC regents to reveal the truth behind the controversial “secret research” taking place at UCLA through a $6 million adolescent smoking cessation grant from cigarette-maker Philip Morris. 

Kim Homer of the California Youth Advocacy Network (CYNA) said she finally got a copy of the proposal used to win the grant money by UCLA. 

“It took UCLA four months to send me a copy of the heavily censored 200-page paperwork after I submitted a public records act,” Homer said. More than half of its pages were censored or missing, making it difficult to understand the exact nature of the grant, she said. 

“Under ‘Specific Aims, the document released by UCLA states that ‘The goal of this project is to develop a...,’” she said, pointing out the redacted sections to the students. 

“I was told that the university did not want to release information to us because there were animal experiments being done and they wanted to protect their faculty against harassment and attacks,” said Homer. “But it had nothing to do with animals. They were testing 14-22 year-olds ... Moreover, if they were so scared of being attacked by animal rights activists, why didn’t they white out the part which said they were testing animals?” 

The application also censored the names of the researchers, the experiments that will be conducted and the hypotheses that are being tested. 

“This is technically supposed to be a transparent record,” said Homer. “Is this transparent? What is UCLA trying to hide?” 

She said that the experiment was being conducted by prominent neuropharmacologist Edythe London, who has conducted research for Philip Morris in the past. 

Glantz, a professor of cardiology at UCSF, said that the experiment plans to take kids who smoked and do a brain scan on them to see what kind of changes took place when they smoked. 

“If you are interested in designing a cigarette for teenagers, this is exactly the kind of information you would be looking at,” he said. “Most people think that a cigarette is just nicotine wrapped up in paper. It is in fact a highly engineered product. Cigarette companies control the delivery of nicotine puff by puff. They do lots of experiments to maximize the addictivity.” 

Glantz added that the main reason behind UC accepting funds from tobacco companies was that the university was in a catastrophic financial condition. 

“If the university says no to tobacco, it means saying no to business,” he said. “People are frightened about where they are going to get the money to run this place.” 

Homer said she expected the full contract between UCLA and Philip Morris to be released this week.