Leading article: The uses and abuses of freedom

Share
Related Topics

It is disquieting, to put it mildly, that Philip Morris – the very embodiment of Big Tobacco – has applied to see a university department's data on smoking habits. The research programme, which is trying to identify what makes smoking attractive to young people, is funded in part by the Department of Health and cancer charities. But the relevance of the same information to tobacco companies' marketing departments can hardly be a mystery. With the vast majority of adult smokers becoming hooked in their teens, this is where the battle has to be fought and won.

Stirling University's Institute for Social Marketing, which is part of a wider UK project, has so far resisted the requests, which have been made under the Freedom of Information Act. It has pleaded that its budget does not extend to the staffing that would be required and that many of the interviews were conducted with children, whose cooperation was secured against assurances about the purpose of the research and confidentiality. It is also concerned that funding from cancer charities might be jeopardised if the data was made available to a tobacco company.

We share the university's misgivings. But this dispute raises important issues which might not be quite as open and shut as they seem. In Britain's notoriously closed society, the FoI represented an important advance, presuming that information should be open to scrutiny except in clearly specified circumstances. Scientific research, which has a value in its own right, but potentially also a commercial and social value, could be seen as the university's exclusive property. If the university and the research, however, have taxpayer funding, should the findings not be more widely available? In the end, the Information Commissioner might have to weigh the arguments – and that might be no bad thing.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£12500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accounting practice is looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Casual Visitor Experience Assistants

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To work within the Visitor Experience Departm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services & Office / Accounts Administrator

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This online retailer of electronic acces...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Protesters march with banners during an anti-austerity, anti-Conservative Party protest in May  

Budget 2015: Why do we call social security payments 'benefits'? They are a right, not a reward

Janey Stephenson
Laura Bassett signs autographs for England fans after the quarter-final victory  

Women's World Cup: Despite the England team's tweet, the Lionesses can be mothers and successful football players at the same time

Chloe Hamilton
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy