Tobacco industry concealed its role in refuting important study

December 12, 2002

In 1981 an influential Japanese study showed an association between passive smoking and lung cancer. Using internal tobacco industry documents, researchers in this week's BMJ describe how the industry tried to hide its involvement in refuting this study.

Some 327 documents were identified, of which 48 discussed the industry's plans to develop a study to counter the Japanese study. The goal of this study was to produce a credible, peer reviewed article that could be used as a public relations tool.

The tobacco industry considered funding the study through the Center for Indoor Air Research, a research organisation supported by the tobacco industry, in order to conceal its involvement.

The parties involved in conducting the study included a tobacco industry scientist, a tobacco industry consultant, an industry law firm, and two Japanese investigators. The consultant was named as the sole author of the final published paper. A general disclosure of financial support from "several companies of the tobacco industry" was also included.

The study found that there was no direct evidence that secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke increased risk of lung cancer, and concluded that studies like the Japanese study have "little scientific basis."

Hidden or "ghost" authorship occurs in studies funded by other corporate interests, as well as among academic researchers. When the participants in the design, conduct, and reporting of the study are hidden, credit and accountability for the work cannot be assessed, write the authors.

The acknowledgement of financial support from tobacco companies in the final publication of the study shows how financial disclosure is an imperfect indicator of a sponsor's involvement in the research, add the authors. The published disclosure that the author received "financial support from several companies of the tobacco industry" does not fully describe the industry's involvement in the study, they conclude.
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BMJ

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