Industry research on health effects may be misleading, study finds

Updated: 2013-05-31 07:12

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

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Higher education and academic research institutions have long been used by China's tobacco industry to promote business on the mainland, sometimes in a misleading manner, according to a new study.

Conducted by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, the study found increasingly close ties between the two parties during the past 30 years.

Most studies surveyed deal with tobacco farming, manufacturing and management, while the "misleading" ones - often about "reduced harm" tobacco products and their alleged positive health effects - have kept increasing in recent years.

"The study aims to draw attention from the public and the authorities to the issue, which would be the first step to make legislation in the future to ban such activities," Gan Quan, senior project officer of the union who oversaw the study, said ahead of World No Tobacco Day, which falls on Friday.

He said the study searched online databases of articles published after 1983 in both Chinese and English for academic institutions in China conducting research with or sponsored by Chinese tobacco companies.

Also, websites of tobacco companies, affiliated institutions and academic institutions were also searched for reports of collaborations.

Among all tobacco-related articles published between 1983 and 2011, less than half were done by the tobacco industry on its own, the study found.

About 40 percent were jointly published by universities and colleges, and some were by higher education institutions.

Among those done solely by universities, roughly 70 percent were funded by tobacco companies.

In the 1980s, higher education and research institutions took part in about 6 percent of research by the tobacco industry, but by 2000 it had grown to 48 percent.

Notably, of all academic research, those on "low-tar, less-harm tobacco products", have increased from less than 1 percent in the 1980s to 59 percent in 2000, it found.

It is common in China for tobacco companies to sponsor research by universities and colleges on the Chinese mainland to help advance the industry, given the low awareness of tobacco control of the researchers, according to Wu Yiqun, deputy director of the Think Tank Research Center for Health Development, a Beijing NGO committed to tobacco control.

"That is tobacco advertising under the cover of scientific research," she said.

The public usually has great faith in academic institutions, and their research supporting the tobacco industry might mislead people and falsely polish the image of the industry, she said.

As a signatory of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which clearly bans such academic research in support of the tobacco industry, China should introduce similar bans as soon as possible, she added.

(China DailyUSA 05/31/2013 page5)