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Issue 477, 18 February 2002

No smoke without fire? The ethics of tobacco funding

Amidst the clamour of protest over Nottingham University's decision in December 2000 to accept a 3.8m grant from British American Tobacco, the voice of the university's Vice-Chancellor, Sir Colin Campbell, was rarely heard. Sir Colin is now coming to the University to lecture on the rights and wrongs of tobacco funding.

Nottingham University's acceptance of BAT funds to set up an international centre for corporate social responsibility sparked a wave of resignations. Professor of medical journalism and editor of the BMJ, Richard Smith, was the first, followed by cancer specialist David Thurston, who took fifteen researchers with him to the University of London. The Cancer Research Campaign withdrew a 1.5m donation, and stated it would be reviewing its annual grant to the university.

University statements maintained the donation had been accepted under national guidelines, and the money would be ringfenced in accordance with the protocol agreed between the Cancer Research Campaign and UniversitiesUK.

A university spokesperson said: "The decision to accept a donation from a tobacco company is entirely separate from the university's medical research activities. The new funding will give hundreds of students an opportunity to experience high quality teaching and research in a vital and fast growing area of global business life."

This contrasts with the situation at the University of Leeds, which has a long-standing policy of not accepting research grants from tobacco companies.

Last year the University went one step further, deciding to pull investments from the same companies. Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Alan Wilson said the decision was made "on grounds of principle, and in recognition of the social responsibility we have as a major university."

In his lecture, Sir Colin will ask whether or not organisations such as universities should accept donations for research from tobacco companies, and look at wider issues, including whether people should be allowed to smoke, whether companies should be allowed to manufacture tobacco products and the ethics of taxing such companies to fund health and social service provision.

The lecture takes place on February 19 at 6pm in the Clarendon Wing lecture theatre on D floor of the LGI. For details, contact Elyse Drake at e.p.drake@leeds.ac.uk


 
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