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Independent? You're having a laugh!

Philip Morris International (PMI) took a bit of a kicking in yesterday's Independent.

And so, by insinuation, did Forest, Taking Liberties and the rest of the "pro-smoking" blogosphere.

The story, billed as an "exclusive", concerned PMI's perfectly legitimate request for Stirling University to reveal "full details of its research involving confidential interviews with thousands of children aged between 11 and 16 about their attitudes towards smoking and cigarette packaging".

I say 'perfectly legitimate' for one simple reason. Stirling University, as the Independent explained, is part of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, a network of nine publicly-funded universities.

However, while the paper admitted that Stirling University's Institute for Social Marketing "receives funding from the Department of Health" it didn't say how much, or that the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies will receive £3,694,498 of public money over five years, commencing June 2008. It was also awarded a £1.2 million grant to develop and pilot several projects to implement smoking cessation services. (See Forest report, Government Lobbying Government, October 2010, revised January 2011.)

That, dear reader, is money that was picked from the pockets of taxpayers like you and me. PMI, I imagine, also pay tax to the British government. I therefore think that PMI, Forest or any other UK taxpayer has every right to ask questions of publicly-funded institutions like Stirling University and the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies – and expect a straight answer.

The hilarious thing is, I'm clearly not alone because the most extraordinary thing about the Independent report, which was splashed across the front page with a double-page spread inside, is this.

Far from being an "exclusive", the story had already appeared in the Sunday Herald on July 17, six weeks ago. (See University says tobacco giant is ‘harassing staff’.)

Like the Independent, the Sunday Herald chose to emphasise the alleged "harassing" of academic staff:

bq. An international tobacco giant has been accused of harassing Scottish university staff and trying to sabotage their work on smoking by misusing freedom of information (FoI) law.

But wait, what's this? Half-way through the Sunday Herald report it was revealed that:

bq. Scotland’s freedom of information watchdog last week ruled in PMI’s favour and ordered the university to change its stance.

In case you thought that was an error, here's the final paragraph:

bq. [Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin] Dunion ruled PMI’s request was a significant burden but not manifestly unreasonable. He also ruled there was also no evidence, in terms of FoI law, to justify claims of attempted disruption or harassment. In conclusion, he said the PMI request was not vexatious and the university had failed in its FoI duty to provide advice and assistance.

Fancy that!

Needless to say the Independent failed to mention this important ruling or the fact that, in the opinion of the Scottish Information Commissioner, PMI's request was not "vexatious" as the University claimed.

Instead the paper went even further than the Sunday Herald and claimed that:

bq. The demands from the tobacco company, made using the UK's Freedom of Information law, have coincided with an internet hate campaign targeted at university researchers involved in smoking studies.

bq. One of the academics has received anonymous abusive phone calls at her home at night. She believes they are prompted by an organised campaign by the tobacco industry to discredit her work, although there is no evidence that the cigarette companies are directly responsible.

Under the separate heading, 'Academics find that research into smoking can seriously damage their peace of mind', the paper reported that:

bq. University researchers have been sent hate emails and some have even received anonymous phone calls, which usually come after a series of blogs posted on pro-smoking websites, including at least one which is linked to the tobacco industry.

I'm not sure how I feel about being smeared like this. Perhaps I should ask for some evidence, using the Freedom of Information Act. Then again, I'm not sure that evidence is tobacco control's strong point.

There is more (much more) I could write about this. For the moment though I shall simply direct you to Dick Puddlecote where you can read his take on this story.

I suggest too that you read Linda Bauld's publicly-funded report for the Department of Health (The Impact of Smokefree Legislation in England) followed by Imperial Tobacco's equally interesting response, The Bauld Truth (seemingly dismissed by the Independent because it "took just a few weeks to write").

Read them both – and make up your own mind.

Meanwhile I'm looking forward to reading today's Independent. Apparently, there's going to be another 'Big Tobacco expose'. Can't wait.

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Reader Comments (11)

The great thing is that all this publicity is making it more and more difficult for Stirling Uni to maintain the secrecy of its data.

Will this case open up all the other secret studies which have been 'commissioned' by ASH via the universities (or vice versa)?

No wonder that they are squealing!

For the Government to block these FOI enquiries now could only say "COVER UP!!!" Surely, the Government dare not?

But we must not jump the gun......we do not yet know what the data will reveal. The whole thing could be quite legitimate and the statistics produced correct - we do not yet know.

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 2:31 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

If it's to do, purely, with marketing (advertising is banned) there can, surely, be only one question: 'Do or will, tobacco displays encourage you to take up smoking?' Yes or no? Bet it wasn't as simple as that, though. I'm more interested in the application from Gallagher. I hope both of these are embarrassing. It all adds to the pressure.

Today's exclusive seems to be running out of steam. The usual infantile comments from the usual suspects.

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 10:15 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

This is desperate stuff from Stirling University, it just goes to prove how much they have been exposed.

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 10:46 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Could we be witnessing TC's 'Climategate' moment? I hope so.

"I'm not sure how I feel about being smeared like this." - Oh, I think I'd decide to feel rather cross and insist on evidence, absence of which would require a public apology. :)

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 10:48 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

The studies I suspect are probably laughable when presented to a real statistician.
Judging from the swamping of the Independent comments by ASH trolls .
Their scared.
But who knows maybe they just fear that precedent being set.
This is only the study into youth smoking, just think about all the rest of the stuff.
A lot of money and reputations staked on this.

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 15:43 | Unregistered CommenterC777

I have just been to the Independent article. I cannot see any provision for comments.

That does not surprise me - the zealots were receiving a hammering in yeterday's comments.

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 17:52 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

Here's an interesting thing. In this morning's Indy there was an article ( which had comments running and to which I was one of many who voiced thier displeasure at the rather one sided and not very "independant" stance being taken by the newspaper's articles this week.

6pm this evening, returned to the article to see what had been added and presto! All the comments deleted and commenting disabled

Funny that. They don't like it up 'em you know.... can't take a bit of criticism....

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 18:02 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

This is related,and I will explain why in a moment. Last night, someone asked me what was the point of signing the e petition, as it was too late for anything to be done. My point was that singning the e petition, and anything else, was letting the TCL influenced government know that, unlike what they are told, everyone, including smoe non smokers, are not happy with the smoking ban.

We are still at the stage where the TCL are still convinced that anything said against their agenda can only be backed by the tobacco industry. I am glad that at last the tobacco industry have had enough, and are beginning to use legal means to do what was done to them in the 1990's, reveal discussion documents.

It may sound strange, but I have a feeling that, rather than the tobacco industry's moves being seen as part of a campaign to influence the public, it will be seen as them acting independantly, and show that 'joe public's' annoyance is coming from 'joe public' themselves.

Hope all that males sense, I know what I mean if noone else does.

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 22:23 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

I think Joe Public is annoyed Timbone and only The Establishment believes the "Evil Tobacco" line anymore. But we need to inspire Joe Public to do more than moan because what is at stake is much more than "a right to smoke".

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 22:43 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

@John 16.02: there are 221 comments on that report. I have just refreshed it. Maybe it was temporary?

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 22:53 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda

Its about bleedin time the tobacco companies have taken a stand.
I hope they will follow this through this time and not be fobbed off with weasel words.
I was shocked and appalled to see the amount of money that is being wasted on so called social smoke research universities or whatever fancy title they call it.
To think that MILLIONS of our hard earned tax money is being poured into these outfits to keep the jobsworths motoring in their cushy politically apointed jobs at our expense, makes my blood boil.

Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 11:06 | Unregistered Commenterann

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