Canada - U of A - tobacco researcher leaves school - conflict of interest..

January 30, 2010 - Carl Phillips, a University of Alberta researcher who came to the university's School of Public Health with a $1.5-million grant from a U.S. tobacco firm has left his position. "As part of the mutually agreeable settlement, I voluntarily completely ended my affiliation with the UASPH (University of Alberta School of Public Health) moved my research lab from there," Carl Phillips wrote in an email to the CBC.

Phillips began his research at the university in November 2005 with a grant from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company. At the time, it was wholly owned by tobacco giant Phillip Morris International. [This statement is not correct Altria Group Inc (parent of Philip Morris USA) on Tuesday, January 6, 2009 completed its $10.4 billion acquisition of UST, Inc.]

Phillips researched the health effects of smokeless tobacco, and later the use of electronic cigarettes. "My only remaining involvement," he wrote, "takes the form of collaborations on a few ongoing projects with colleagues who are still there."

The decision brought kudos from Les Hagen, who speaks for the lobby group Action on Smoking and Health. Les Hagen, from Action on Smoking and Health, says the university did the right thing in allowing Phillips to leave the school. "I think the university has done the right thing," he told CBC News, adding that tobacco companies benefit from the credibility that can come from association with universities.

"If they can get some academic institutions and individuals — academics — to somehow endorse or support the development of their products, they can use that credibility to help sell those products," he said.

University officials confirmed the departure, but refused further comment.

Reference: Tobacco researcher leaves University of Alberta, CBC News, 1/26/2010.



February 1, 2010 at 10:10 AM

Not too sure what the perceived conflict of interest is, but I've left this comment on the CBC website and will leave it here as well:
As a former PhD student in Carl Phillips' lab, I can attest to the fact that Carl's departure is the result of a poorly managed bunch of academics who care more about generating publicity than they do about maintaining good student relationships, or even about educating students. I left the department without completing my PhD absolutely devastated by the lack of organization, and further, by the complete disregard for student's needs. It does not surprise me in the least that the Dean of the school is refusing to comment. The school of public health promotes a myopic view of health that does not allow for any novel interpretations of epidemiology, or, more to the point, good research. Nobody in the department who would apparently disagree with Carl's research has ever come out and stated what they believe the main faults of his research are. The fact is, there are none. The science is sound and is supported by research done globally with the evidence showing that ST is far less harmful than smoking. Carl would be the last person to suggest that means it is safe. This hypocritical bunch of thugs hired Carl with the knowledge of his source of funding. They then used that contentious point to drive him (one of 3 or 4 good researchers in the department) and some very high-achieving students away. In the past I have submitted formal complaints against this department, and eventually dropped out with one year left. All I can say is that I wish these people were as embarrassed and ashamed for themselves as I am for them, and that I am thoroughly disgusted with the University of Alberta's behaviour in this situation. I have actively discouraged friends and strangers from applying to this department, and will continue to do so until the administration is replaced.
-Courtney Heffernan