Jean King: This industry should be kept away from young people

Thursday 01 September 2011 00:00

Tobacco is the only consumer product that kills one in two long-term users. It remains the preventable cause of more than a quarter of all cancer deaths in the UK. The tobacco industry has funded misleading research and seeks to gain unwarranted respectability by association with credible bodies such as universities.

Cancer Research UK has always taken a strong position against the tobacco industry. Because smoking kills five times more people than road accidents, overdoses, murder, suicide and HIV put together, it is worth trying to understand this complex addiction and it is vital to prevent young people from starting to smoke and to help those who want to quit.

The World Health Organisation has clearly set out how the industry uses tactics to try to rehabilitate its image, such as funding worthy causes as part of a corporate social responsibility agenda. The tobacco industry's own documents highlight that most of its youth smoking prevention campaigns are designed to promote the industry's political and marketing aims rather than to reduce smoking.

Studies have shown how the industry has sought systematically to distort the scientific evidence on the harmful effects of tobacco, especially in relation to second-hand smoke. Scientists have been paid by the tobacco industry to speak at scientific and political forums, and to write letters and papers disputing the evidence on the harm caused by tobacco and second-hand smoking.

Attempts have been made to infiltrate scientific institutions such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer which has led to a WHO investigation. Studies have been commissioned which aim to cast doubt on the evidence of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke either by producing findings counter to major influential studies or by proposing other confounding factors, such as diet, as being the harmful factors.

The charity ASH recently documented how the tobacco industry uses front groups to put across its arguments including funding bodies to lobby politicians to fight against measures to remove tobacco displays from shops.

There is a direct conflict between the interests of tobacco companies and those of public health and it is our duty to ensure that this industry is denied any opportunity to influence tobacco control policy.

The writer is director of Tobacco Control at Cancer Research UK

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