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Protecting scientific integrity from tobacco industry interference

Undermining the integrity of science has been a strategy of the tobacco industry for decades. We’ve seen them launch an industry-funded research group, sponsor entire issues of prestigious research journals, and present at tobacco control research conferences, where they have the opportunity to gain critical insight into tobacco control evidence and strategy. The industry’s funded research has been and continues to be rife with conflict, unproven claims about product safety and efficacy, and perspectives motivated by profit. Their involvement in tobacco science has been marked by actions to delay and prevent the adoption of proven tobacco control strategies.

The bottom line: The tobacco industry’s involvement in science has caused harm to the health of youth and adults.

Infiltrating Scientific Spaces

The tobacco industry is attempting to push its self-serving narrative and flawed research around e-cigarettes and other non-combustible tobacco products to portray itself as part of the solution. But in reality, they continue to be the main problem by selling and marketing cigarettes and e-cigarettes – particularly to youth and young adults. Their recent actions mirror those they’ve used in the past, including launching an industry-funded research group, sponsoring entire issues of prestigious research journals, and presenting at tobacco control research conferences. Industry research is biased and often misleading, and its inclusion gives them a false equivalency to unbiased tobacco control scientists. A recent example includes the makers of the popular e-cigarette JUUL, owned in part by Altria, sponsoring an entire special issue in the American Journal of Health Behavior to showcase their industry-funded research on e-cigarettes.

Wall Street Journal PMI Advertorial

Promoting new image

In its singular focus to make even more money, the tobacco industry has also turned to major media outlets, attempting to shape perceptions about newer products such as e-cigarettes. PMI and Altria spent nearly $12 million between January 2020 and August 2021 on physical and digital ads in the Boston Globe, The Denver Post, The Washington Post, Politico, and The Wall Street Journal, according to Truth Initiative research. PMI’s vice president of strategic and scientific communications published an ad in The New York Times about “embracing science.” These opportunities gave the company platforms to claim that they care about reducing harm and improving public health while continuing to sell cigarettes and other harmful, addictive tobacco products.

Truth Initiative’s commitment to protecting scientific integrity

Steering committee

In 2021, Truth Initiative established a committee comprised of academic and policy leaders in tobacco control to work collaboratively to protect and increase scientific integrity in research on commercial tobacco and nicotine products.

Our goals

  • Establish norms among scientists that prioritize the protection of public health over commercial interests.
  • Change systems, practices, and policies to prevent those with conflicts of interest from exercising undue influence on research, policy, and practice.
  • Protect public health researchers, journal editors, and board members from tobacco/nicotine industry actions designed to intimidate them and obfuscate valid science.
  • Create forums for constructive, respectful, open-minded dialogue among public health researchers about tobacco/nicotine prevention and control.

Impact Series

Truth Initiative recently hosted a virtual discussion about how researchers, scientific journals, media publications, and regulatory agencies can protect the integrity of credible public health research.