Tobacco industry funded research shunned by some health publishers
Health editors from the BMJ, Heart, Thorax and BMJ Open say they will not consider the publication of studies that have been funded in part or wholly by the tobacco industry.
The editors state that their new policy is consistent with that of other journals, and it aims to show that they are committed to publishing work that only improves knowledge of health and disease without any links to a product with a detrimental effect on health.
Critics could argue that the publishing of research funded by these companies does not equal endorsement, but the editors believe that this view “ignores the growing body of evidence that biases and research misconduct are often impossible to detect".
It has been argued that instead of improving knowledge, the tobacco industry “has used research to deliberately produce ignorance and to advance its ultimate goal of selling its deadly products while shoring up its damaged legitimacy”.
There is extensive research which draws on the tobacco industry’s own documents, which reveal how the industry aimed to create scientific and popular ignorance or “doubt” for decades surrounding research into smoking and lung cancer and the effects of passive smoking on health.
Some editors acknowledged that journals “unwittingly played a role in producing and sustaining this ignorance”. Yet some believe that new tobacco products could represent potential public health gains. Tobacco company sponsored research may be the first to identify such gains.
Despite this, it has been argued that these companies are always in the business of marketing and selling cigarettes, and no ‘healthier’ alternative can overcome this fact.
Editors go on to argue that “the tobacco industry has not changed in any fundamental way, and the cigarette, the single most deadly consumer product ever made, remains widely available and aggressively marketed”.
Back in 2003, the BMJ editor defended their publication of a study funded by the tobacco industry by stating that “the BMJ is passionately anti-tobacco, but we are also passionately pro-debate and pro-science. A ban would be anti-science”.
The editorial concludes that a refusal to publish tobacco industry funded research “affirms our fundamental commitment not to allow our journals to be used in the service of an industry that continues to perpetuate the most deadly disease epidemic of our times”.
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