Tobacco Deal Spells End of Research Money

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Science  08 Aug 1997:
Vol. 277, Issue 5327, pp. 755
DOI: 10.1126/science.277.5327.755a

Buried in the settlement now being worked out between tobacco companies and public health advocates is a provision that may extinguish a cherished source of grants for biomedical researchers. If adopted, the agreement could cut off funds for the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which hands out $20 million a year to individual investigators—the bulk of the industry's support for academic research. Anticipating a shutdown, the CTR has suspended its grant-giving program. “It seems imprudent to make new grants at this time,” says James Glenn, CTR's president.

Snuffed out.

Tobacco deal would kill industry-supported biomedical research fund.

CTR, now 43 years old, has stopped processing new awards, because the deal signed in June by tobacco companies and several states to settle class action suits calls for CTR's termination. Although the settlement still awaits approval by Congress and the White House, Glenn says CTR has notified its grantees—including about 50 new investigators a year—that it's no longer business as usual. However, CTR will continue grants committed to earlier.

“Our grantees are extremely upset,” Glenn says, and understandably so. But CTR's critics are delighted. “It's entirely appropriate to disband this organization,” says pulmonologist David Burns of the University of California, San Diego. The critics contend that the organization, while supporting peer-reviewed, independent research, has served to create the impression that there is a scientific controversy about whether cigarettes cause disease (Science, 26 April 1996, p. 488).

Indeed, Assistant Attorney General Tom Green of Massachusetts—one of the states that helped forge the agreement—explains that many of the lawsuits that have been filed against the industry alleged that CTR was part of a conspiracy to put out disinformation. “It's typical to call for dissolution of an entity if you have a conspiracy,” says Green. Glenn, however, insists that “there's absolutely nothing the Council for Tobacco Research has ever done that's dishonest, unethical, or fraudulent.”

But there may be a silver lining for CTR-funded researchers: The settlement also calls for the tobacco companies to establish a $25 billion public health trust fund that will in part support “tobacco-related medical research.” Burns says he expects a minimum of $100 million a year will go toward such research—five times as much as the council now spends.

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