Smoke signals

For last week’s cover story on UC Davis’ collaboration with the tobacco industry (“Smoked out!” June 21), SN&R attempted to reach UC Davis neurobiologist Earl Carstens for follow-up questions about his Philip Morris-sponsored research on nicotine. SN&R sent Carstens two questions by e-mail, informing him of the approaching deadline. Receiving no response, the story published comments Carstens provided in a prior brief phone interview.

The day after deadline, SN&R received an e-mail response from Carstens, who corresponded from Eastern Europe. “Probably it is too late,” Carstens wrote, “but I will nevertheless respond to your questions now.”

Following are the questions and Carstens’ replies.

In your July 19, 1994, letter soliciting funds from Philip Morris’ research center director Richard Carchman for experiments on the “Sensory Properties of Oral Nicotine,” you write that: “Results from these experiments could potentially be of significance to the tobacco industry, if it is shown that nicotine activates the same neural pathways as common food spices. A substantial fraction of the world population regularly consumes spicy food despite the associated oral burning sensation, and one could argue that part of the pleasure associated with tobacco use derives from the same sensory quality.”

What exactly did you mean when you wrote that your research “could potentially be of significance to the tobacco industry"? Also, when you reference “a substantial fraction of the world population” that “regularly consumes spicy food,” some people have reacted to that as suggesting people in undeveloped countries are the target. Is that what you meant?

I don’t remember exactly what I meant at the time. What they said in your second question sounds correct. I in no way meant to suggest targeting underdeveloped countries in my comment about spicy food. In fact, as far as I know, the largest increase in consumption of spicy food is in developed countries.

In your June 4 e-mail to me, you said you did not believe that Philip Morris intended to use your research for promoting their products. But a Philip Morris spokesman called me and said they fund sensory research in order to help them develop products and invent new ones in order to meet consumer demand, and that the grant to you and [UC Davis sensory-science professor] Michael O’Mahony fit into that category. Any thoughts on that or response to it?

Not really. It sounds good, although vague.

I apologize if I missed your deadline. I did not have internet contact for a few days prior to today. Good luck with the article!