Smoked out!

The hidden history of UC Davis’ 35-year collaboration with Big Tobacco

Listen to the author, Ralph Brave, discuss this topic on Capital Public Radio’s Insight program aired on June 21, 2007.

When faculty representatives of the Academic Senate at UC Davis voted overwhelmingly on April 2 to oppose a ban on tobacco-industry research funding, they did so for several reasons. Academic freedom, fear of a “slippery slope” that could lead to other research-funding prohibitions and trust in the faculty’s integrity were among the most prominently cited rationales for opposing a ban. Many faculty members also declared that despite the tobacco industry being the source of funding, the monies helped advance scientific knowledge and did not promote cigarette smoking and tobacco products.

But an SN&R investigation has revealed that some UC Davis scientists collaborated with the tobacco industry over a 35-year period, from the mid-'60s to 2000, conducting research that directly aided tobacco companies in designing their tobacco products with the goal of expanding the sales market for their cigarettes. SN&R’s reporting, which included a review of more than 2,000 internal tobacco-industry and UC Davis documents, revealed that:

• While the vast majority of tobacco-industry research funding to UC Davis over the past decades has been secured by cellular, molecular and physiological scientists researching health-related issues, a group of “sensory scientists” based in the UC Davis Department of Food Science & Technology have conducted research directly assisting the tobacco industry’s product-development needs and goals.

• Beginning in 1965, one year after the first U.S. Surgeon General’s groundbreaking report linking smoking with cancer, UC Davis Food Science professor Rose Marie Pangborn began carrying out research funded by the tobacco industry to evaluate cigarette smoking’s sensory impact on consumers’ taste. Pangborn, considered to be one of the leading founders of the sensory-science discipline, continued her collaboration into the late 1980s with the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company, overseeing a number of graduate students’ research projects on the sensory effects of menthol. The chief of the flavor division of R.J. Reynolds sat on the thesis committees for several of these graduate students.

• Tobacco-industry documents explicitly indicate that industry scientists were actively involved in the design of some of the research the industry funded UC Davis’ sensory scientists to execute. These documents also state the kinds of benefits they believed their funding of the research could confer on future sales and marketing efforts for their cigarette products.

• In 1994, an initial proposal from UC Davis neurobiologist Earl Carstens seeking funding from Philip Morris to study sensory effects of nicotine asserted that the research might assist marketing tobacco globally if it was shown that the effects of nicotine and spicy foods are produced by the same neural pathway. In December 1996, Carstens received a Philip Morris grant for $192,000.

Few, if any, UC Davis faculty outside of the sensory scientists directly involved appear to have knowledge of this collaboration with the tobacco industry. No mention of this decades-long partnership was made at the April 2 Academic Senate meeting when 47 faculty members voted to oppose any ban on tobacco-industry research funding, and only one professor voted to support such a ban.

But even when informed of this research, UC Davis faculty and administrative officials continue to oppose any limitation of their ability to take funds from the tobacco industry. “I’m not in favor of tobacco products myself,” UC Davis Vice Chancellor of Research Barry Klein told SN&R in an interview last week. “I wouldn’t advise anybody to use them. But the principle of the university is one of free speech and the ability to let individual researchers make the decision about what they work on.”

The documentary records available, first compiled during the major tobacco court cases and collected by the UC San Francisco Tobacco Library, represent only a partial record of the UC Davis sensory scientists’ relationship with tobacco. Despite the gaps, though, a picture of that partnership over the past four decades, and its value to the tobacco industry, can be gleaned.

Like a cigarette should
The taste of a cigarette is not a secondary concern to a tobacco company and consumers. That’s because the taste of nicotine approximates the taste of “foul, rotten rubber,” says Channing Robertson, a professor of chemical engineering and senior associate dean of the Stanford School of Engineering, who is also a leading expert on tobacco material processing, cigarette design and manufacturing and nicotine-delivery systems.

“You can remove nicotine from tobacco, just like you can remove caffeine from coffee,” Robertson explains. “It’s one class of molecules. But that would mean removing the addictive property of tobacco.”

So the tobacco companies have a conundrum. “They need to mask the nicotine taste in order to get people to start smoking,” says Robertson. “Once they’re addicted, it’s not really a problem.”

The tobacco companies’ solution has been to develop “flavor packages.” Robertson, who has toured cigarette manufacturing plants, says selections from more than 1,000 different chemicals are put together in varying combinations to create the flavor package for any particular cigarette brand. Menthol is the most well-known flavor. “These chemicals sprayed onto the tobacco are especially important to their business and are highly proprietary,” Robertson says. The flavor of a cigarette, then, is close to the core of the tobacco industry’s business concerns.

That’s precisely the area that UC Davis’ sensory scientists have been funded by the tobacco industry to study for nearly four decades. The records indicate that the relationship began in 1964, the same year that the U.S. Surgeon General issued its initial report linking smoking and cancer.

Even if they don’t know it, sensory science is something that most people are familiar with from watching television commercials. The good wife who rubs towels on each cheek after they were washed with different detergents to see which is softer; the salesman who finds that rinsing with a particular mouthwash makes his mouth sparkle; the young kid who delights in the voluble crunch from eating one brand of potato chip—all are demonstrations and symbols of sensory science at work. If “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should,” it was probably the result of some form of sensory science at work.

Famed sensory-science pioneer Rose Marie Pangborn of the UC Davis Department of Food Science & Technology began doing tobacco-industry-funded research on smoking in 1965. Shown in her lab in an undated photo, Pangborn oversaw menthol studies funded by R.J. Reynolds during the 1980s, and until her death in 1990.

Courtesy Of UC Davis Special Collections

“Sensory science is basically the study of the senses and the brain, and how it copes with sensory information,” explains Michael O’Mahony, a sensory-science professor in the UC Davis Department of Food Science & Technology. The science in sensory science involves continually devising and refining the methods by which people’s sensory experience is tested, reported, measured and evaluated. That sensory experience might be the flavor of a fruit or the taste of tobacco.

Shortly after the UC Department of Food Science moved from Berkeley to Davis in the early 1950s, young food technologist Rose Marie Pangborn, began conducting consumer studies. How sweet did consumers like their canned cling peaches or their vanilla ice cream? How does sugar enhance other flavors? What effect did color have in consumers evaluating the sweetness in pear nectar or dry table wine? These were the kinds of questions she explored into the early 1960s, with an increasing focus on the instruments and the methods in conducting such studies.

As an associate specialist and lecturer in the renamed UC Davis Department of Food Science & Technology, Pangborn first reached out to the tobacco industry’s Council for Tobacco Research for funding in 1964. A site visit to UC Davis from the Council’s assistant scientific director, R.C. Hockett, followed in May 1965. Praising “the excellent facility” with its isolation and interview rooms, temperature and air controls, Hockett reported, “Their consideration of smoker vs. non-smoker is objective, and data obtained is evaluated without prior bias.”

In October 1965, Pangborn attended a tobacco-industry conference on “The Role of Oral Cavity Research in the Study of Tobacco Use and Human Health.” Her feedback to the industry was that the conference was “successful and useful,” but she complained that “the discussions centered almost exclusively on oral carcinomas [cancers]. A broader view of oral physiology would have been very helpful.” If this was a signal to the tobacco industry that she could be relied upon, it worked. On November 5, 1965, Pangborn’s application officially went out to the Council for Tobacco Research. In March 1966, the Council for Tobacco Research issued a press release announcing a “Tobacco-Health Research Grant” of $48,997 awarded Pangborn “to study the interactions of gustatory, olfactory, tactile and thermal stimuli among smokers and non-smokers.”

Over the next four years, Pangborn, working with departmental colleagues and graduate students, would produce a series of papers under the Council’s grant. Did tobacco smokers actually have a reduced appetite? No. Did tobacco smoke interfere with smokers’ ability to experience other food and beverage tastes? No. Did smoking reduce one’s ability to smell odors? No. Smokers, it did turn out, drank more coffee than non-smokers. Though Pangborn’s studies were challenged by other researchers, the tobacco industry embraced them.

During this period, Pangborn’s studies also involved testing techniques that would provide valuable data to the tobacco industry as it responded to increasing public-health concerns with the development and introduction of “light” cigarettes. “At present we are completing our studies on salivary flow while smoking with and without the ‘Cambridge’ filter which separates the gas phase from the particulate matter,” Pangborn, then a tenured associate professor, wrote to her industry funders on April 15, 1969.

A 1969 list of the Council for Tobacco Research’s “Positive Achievements (over the years),” includes combating “bladder cancer charges,” demonstrating “familial influences in emphysema,” and the “benefits of smoking.” Also listed: “Pangborn—no effect of smoking on taste activity.”

Aroma data and sweeteners
The Cooperation Centre for Scientific Research Relative to Tobacco, the major international tobacco trade association based in France, announced in 1972 that its biannual conference would feature “leading research scientists.” “Dr. Rose Marie Pangborn, food flavor specialist, University of California, Davis, will present a paper on the ‘Physiology of Flavor Perception,’” announced CORESTA’s press release.

“Flavor, the complex oral experience of taste, smell, temperature, pressure, and pain, is difficult to verbalize and to quantify,” Pangborn summarized. “Why is it so difficult to describe … the robust aroma of a good cigar?” she asked.

Pangborn’s research, sponsored by the tobacco industry, continued through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. Though there is a dearth of documentation for this period, a September 27, 1977, Council for Tobacco Research document listed “Additions for Institutions of Investigators Receiving Awards,” including “University of California, Davis/Pangborn.”

Sometime in 1984 or 1985, Pangborn was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But rather than any withdrawal from tobacco studies, the professor appears to have switched topics and benefactors. A 1987 letter from a senior vice president at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco confirms its support for a graduate fellowship through a grant to Pangborn “to research the oral-nasal-retronasal perception of menthol.” R.J. Reynolds produces several brands of menthol cigarettes, most notably the Kool brand.

The letter also gives some insight into the nature of the relationship between a university researcher and their tobacco-company sponsor. While the letter states that ultimate decisions about the design, conduct and publication of the research remains with the researcher, each step is conditioned by prior consultation with R.J. Reynolds. The design and conduct of the research will be mutually agreed upon, and R.J. Reynolds will review any paper prior to publication and have access to exclusive licenses from any patents.

“It is intended that this grant be provided to further scholarly research and develop intellectual, scientific and teaching ties between RJR and the University,” the letter states. Since then, more than one UC Davis graduate in sensory science has gone to work for R.J. Reynolds.

R.J. Reynolds flavor chief Thomas A. Perfetti’s mid-year review for 1988 places Pangborn’s research, for which chemicals and glassware have been delivered and first experiments reviewed, under “Objective 2: Identify key product variables and study their influence on the perception of mainstream, sidestream and environmental tobacco smoke.”

On October 5, 1988, Perfetti made a trip to Davis. Staying at the Campus Inn at 221 D Street, Perfetti’s itinerary shows he and Pangborn met at the “Chem Annex” to oversee a presentation of the experiment procedures and data from graduate student James Opet, and then discussed “future menthol studies” with another graduate student. After a buffet lunch at the faculty club, Perfetti reviewed the “aroma data” of two other investigators, though it’s not clear whether they were graduate students or professors. A discussion labeled “Sweeteners” was followed by dinner.

Perfetti’s trip was in connection with a Chemical Senses Day VI conference, held in nearby Dublin on October 8, 1988. At that conference, the agenda lists several UC Davis sensory-science graduate students and professors presenting papers and talks, including viticulture sensory scientist Ann C. Noble. Graduate student Opet presented the research on “Influence of Ethanol, Sucrose and Caffeine on Temporal Perception of Menthol.”

Professor emerita Ann C. Noble of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology, a sensory scientist, opposes a ban on tobacco-industry research funding. “If I don’t have any other research money, so I’m paralyzed, am I supposed to cut off my legs?”

SN&R Photo By Don Button

By October 21, Perfetti requested $20,000 for additional computers for the UC Davis project because, “Sensory experiments are being carried out daily which tie up the data analyses.” Perfetti wrote that the work has not only “already contributed greatly to our understanding of the differential sensory and temporal effects of menthol … but this latest project and future collaborative work in 1989-90 will contribute information for product use in several areas of RJRN [R.J. Reynolds/Nabisco] including mentholated cigarettes.”

This progress was occurring, it seems, even as Pangborn’s health was beginning to deteriorate. On the same day as Perfetti’s request for computers, the president of Tragon, a Redwood City sensory-evaluation company, sent a letter to R.J. Reynolds requesting $100,000 to help establish a sensory-science scholarship fund to support Ph.D. candidates at Davis. The fund would be named in Pangborn’s honor. When this request was passed up through the R.J.Reynolds executive hierarchy, a cover memo was attached asking for the request to be fulfilled. “RJR Tobacco has directly benefited from [the UC Davis sensory science] program through the five Davis students we currently employ,” the memo states. “What they have brought to us has been scientific discipline, creativity and technical expertise. The vast methods research which has been generated by the Davis program has influence over everything we do.”

On January 4, 1989, Perfetti sent a memorandum to headquarters on the subject of “Accomplishments to date on Menthol Studies at University of California at Davis.” Addressing the progress made on the “collaborative research on the sensory and temporal response of menthol and cooling compounds with Professor Pangborn and her graduate students,” Perfetti reiterated the significance of the research “for product use in several areas of RJRT including mentholated cigarettes.”

From Opet’s thesis on how sugar, caffeine and ethanol influence the experience of menthol, an article was prepared for publication. The authors listed in addition to Opet were “Thomas A. Perfetti, R.M. Pangborn and A.C. Noble.” An R.J. Reynolds “Presentation/Publication Approval Form,” dated December 12, 1989, indicates that the publication had been “Accepted as is—all suggested changes made,” and signed off by the tobacco company’s new product technologies research-and-development director, the legal department, and a vice president and senior vice president of R.J. Reynolds R&D.

During this same period, Perfetti also informed R.J. Reynolds headquarters that a new graduate student’s thesis work “will be useful to RJR in developing products with unique flavor delivery profiles (i.e. improved aftertaste).”

Nicotine and spicy food
On March 17, 1990, Pangborn, a faculty member in the Department of Food Science & Technology for 35 years, died at age 58 in her El Macero home from ovarian cancer. Her self-composed obituary mentioned that she was internationally known as a pioneer in sensory science; author of over 180 scientific articles; co-author of three textbooks, including one that served as the field’s bible for 20 years; a member of eight scientific societies and co-founder of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences. Even the last accomplishment on this list had a tobacco connection: The short list of corporate members of the Association of Chemoreception Sciences included Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.

Even before Pangborn’s death, R.J. Reynold’s Perfetti attempted to generate additional projects with the other UC Davis sensory scientist with whom he served on the thesis committees: Ann Noble of the Viticulture & Enology Department. On January 5, 1990, he sent a memo to his bosses to fund a graduate student under Noble’s direction for the development of a “Tobacco Aroma Wheel.” This would “give flavorists and cigarette developers a common language,” just as Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel had done for the wine industry. “Additionally, it can be used as a tool to develop cigarette products with improved or novel pack and rod aromas,” Perfetti explained to his bosses at R.J. Reynolds. “It may also enable flavorists to develop topdressings for modern cigarette blends which employ alternate fillers and uniquely processed tobaccos.”

Three weeks later, Perfetti received a negative response from one R.J. Reynolds colleague. But the future of the project was left for others to decide.

Now a professor emerita at UC Davis, Noble told SN&R said that the tobacco aroma wheel project never happened. She said that if it had, she would have been interested in studying the aromas of tobacco, as similar aromas occur in wine, her area of expertise. Asked whether she thought the tobacco-industry-funded research of UC Davis sensory scientists was useful to the industry, Noble said, “Sure. It’s useful to the tobacco industry. But it’s useful for other people, too. Menthol also is used in toothpaste, too.” On the issue of whether UC Davis sensory scientists should be conducting research for the tobacco industry, Noble responded, “If I don’t have any other research money, so I’m paralyzed, am I supposed to cut off my legs?”

Documents show Noble attending the April 18-22, 1990, Association for Chemoreception Sciences conference to present the paper that she, Pangborn, Perfetti and Opet had co-authored. A research scientist for R.J. Reynold’s competitor, Philip Morris, wrote her own boss a memo on the presentation, with the comment that “the study would have been better designed” if both the irritation and cooling “and odor qualities of menthol had been evaluated.”

Perfetti made a return to the campus on October 12, 1990, in preparation for a “Chemical Senses Day VIII program.” By fax, he informed Noble of his plans, suggesting that they could use the occasion to discuss graduate students’ papers and theses.

After this, the documentation of R.J. Reynolds relationship with UC Davis goes cold. But there is no doubt that the relationship has continued. As recently as May, 2005, R.J. Reynolds made a gift of $5,000 to a scholarship fund in the veterinary school.

A phone message and e-mail from SN&R to R.J. Reynolds requesting an interview on their sponsorship of research at UC Davis did not receive responses.

Even as the relationship with R.J. Reynolds was shifting in the wake of Pangborn’s passing, relationships with Philip Morris were being developed by another departmental sensory scientist, Michael O’Mahony. Philip Morris had had its eyes on UC Davis’ sensory scientists as much as the scientists had their eyes on Philip Morris’ money. In a 1991 Philip Morris survey of “Major Chemical Sense Programs—USA,” notation of the UC Davis program is made as: “Some good people / Some loose ties with RJR / Dr. Ann Noble and Dr. Michael O’Mahony—human psychophysics—primarily taste / Inconvenient.” The word “inconvenient” appears to refer to UC Davis’ distance from Philip Morris’ Richmond, Va., headquarters.

A British export from Bristol University, O’Mahony has been with the UC Davis food-science department since 1977. His research interests revolve around methods of discriminating between tastes or aromas or other sensory experiences.

In an interview with SN&R, O’Mahony explained that he met up with a Philip Morris researcher in the early 1990s who had certain theories with which he disagreed. “I told him, ‘Look, your theory is very good and very mathematical, but I think the assumptions are wrong. I think these other assumptions are more correct, but I’m not very mathematical. So we should work together.’” A $30,000 Philip Morris grant funded the project, which involved testing whether salt in distilled water could be detected. “Nothing much to do with tobacco,” says O’Mahony. He also notes that neither of their theories proved accurate.

Sensory scientist Michael O’Mahony of the UC Davis Department of Food Science & Technology worked on nicotine taste studies funded by Philip Morris in the 1990s, but claims they are of no value to industry. A Philip Morris spokesman disagreed.

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

But another joint research study underwritten by Philip Morris brought O’Mahony closer to tobacco. In collaboration with UC Davis neurobiologist Earl Carstens, O’Mahony had been conducting research on the response to various oral irritants under a grant from the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program. The TRDRP is funded by cigarette taxes imposed by Proposition 99, and is run out of the Office of the President of the University of California. Under the grant, O’Mahony tested the effects of nicotine and the chemical compound active in hot red chili peppers in order to provide evidence of whether they created their effects by the same receptors in the tongue. (They didn’t.) Carstens role was to identify the neural pathways in rats’ brains that accounted for this taste experience.

But the state program’s funds were experiencing a crunch, as then-Governor Pete Wilson was redirecting them (illegally, as it later turned out) to help deal with a state budget deficit. In a July 19, 1994, letter, Carstens reached out to Richard Carchman, director of the Philip Morris research center, for funding “a physiologically oriented research project on the sensory properties of nicotine that Philip Morris might be interested in supporting, particularly given the current political climate.” Carsten then laid out his research program to identify the “neurons in the brainstem that are activated by nicotine and other irritants,” and then use “electrophysiological microelectrodes” to identify the individual neurons responding. Carstens mentioned that, “A companion experiment is proposed to determine if menthol affects neuronal responses to nicotine.”

Eager to secure the funding, Carstens then suggested how this research might benefit Philip Morris: “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.”

According to some, Carstens’ referrence to the “substantial fraction of the world population” that “regularly consumes spicy food” is code for undeveloped nations. With tobacco consumption declining in the developed world, those nations with weak public health systems are the tobacco industry’s growth markets. Carstens did not respond to an SN&R request for specific comment on his statement.

On December 10, 1996, Carstens and O’Mahony submitted their official proposal to Philip Morris, a proposal that included studying the “Interactions between nicotine and menthol.” On January 7, 1997, UC Davis was informed that Philip Morris was awarding a three-year, $192,000 grant to Carstens and O’Mahony to conduct studies on the “Oral Irritant Effect of Nicotine.”

When asked by SN&R in a phone interview for comment on his tobacco research funding, Carstens replied, “What are your intentions? Are you going to publish my name? I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.” Carstens said he feared his work being expressed in “a negative context. I don’t want to be associated with that exposé.”

The neurobiology professor then explained that he had only conducted studies under the Philip Morris grant for a single year. With renewed funding available from the state, Carstens said he was told he couldn’t obtain that funding if he were also taking money from a tobacco company. Carstens agreed by phone and e-mail to a sit-down interview with SN&R about his experience with tobacco-industry funding, but never made himself available. By e-mail, Carstens denied that his Phillip Morris-funded research would benefit the tobacco sponsor.

When the co-investigator on the grant, UC Davis sensory scientist O’Mahony, was read Carstens’ 1994 suggestion that the research could benefit the tobacco industry, he laughed. “Total bullshit, of course,” O’Mahony, who also denies that his research helped the tobacco industry, said. “A crafty come-on. But no, smoking and eating spicy foods is totally different. If I was at Philip Morris, I’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah right. Do you want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge, too?’ It’s all bullshit, in fact. I’m sure [Earl] knew that. It was just a way of trying to get money.”

O’Mahony explained it this way: “He’s pulling the wool over their eyes. He just wants to get their money so that he can do some proper research. Every professor does that. That’s why they get a B.S. God knows what Ph.D. stands for—someone told me, but it was rude. They’re all competing with each other for the same amount of money. So they’re saying, ‘If I get this money and I can do this terribly obscure research, which is terribly interesting to me but will probably be no use whatsoever to you, I’m going to show you that this will save your company.’ It goes like that.”

Perhaps. But documents show that the grant to Carstens and O’Mahony was part of a larger Philip Morris strategy, with the “business purpose” of understanding “the taste properties of nicotine and related compounds.” Researchers at Duke University and other universities were also funded to research other aspects of nicotine taste properties as part of Philip Morris’ “Worldwide Scientific Affairs Strategic Plan.”

David Sutton, communications director for Philip Morris, told SN&R that Carstens and O’Mahony’s sensory research, and others like it, are intended to be of use. “[Carstens and O’Mahony’s] research was about the sensory effect of nicotine. We fund this type of research to help us test how products would be responded to by the consumer. That’s the best way to characterize this type of research. We’re always trying to improve our products and invent new products that will meet the demands of consumers.”

The Philip Morris grant to Carstens and O’Mahony was completed in 1999. As of December 22, 2006, UC Davis had nearly $5 million for nine active grants from the Philip Morris External Research Program. All are for molecular and cellular studies on the effects of smoke. None currently are for sensory-science research.

Soul of the university
In comparison with the tobacco-industry research grants received by UC Davis scientists in the medical fields, which (over the same period) run into the tens of millions of dollars, UC Davis officials emphasize that what the sensory scientists were receiving was a relative pittance. But they were significant amounts in the sensory science field itself.

Precisely how did the tobacco industry use the sensory scientists’ research to improve the design and sales of their cigarettes? We don’t know, and probably never will. Whatever answers there are lie behind the barricades of the tobacco companies’ proprietary information. Still, the comment of the R.J. Reynolds research executive echoes forward: “The vast methods research which has been generated by the Davis program has influence over everything we do.”

UC Davis sensory scientist O’Mahony, though, stands by his decision to accept tobacco-industry research funding. “If the Russian mafia came and said, ‘We like your research on AIDS. We want to give you some money. We are crooks and we get most of our money from drugs, murder and stuff like that. In fact, we get a lot of our money from killing people. We kill a lot of people, actually, but we’d like to donate some money to you so that you can carry on with your research on AIDS.’ I’d say, ‘Thank you very much.’ I’d take the money, of course. It’s not so much where the money comes from, but what you do with it that counts.” Of course, neither O’Mahoney nor any of the sensory scientists were conducting AIDS research.

Asked whether any health benefit might be achieved from the sensory-science research conducted by UC Davis, Stanford University’s chemical-engineering professor and tobacco expert Robertson replies, “It’s hard to imagine any. The only thing cigarettes do is kill you.”

Even Thomas Jue, a UC Davis biochemistry professor who has received Philip Morris research funding and has been a vocal opponent of any ban, pauses when informed of some of the sensory scientists’ work for the tobacco industry. “It’s really helping the tobacco companies sell a product. In this case, this is in a sense moving really, really close to the research arm of a tobacco company. And in that case, I would ask, is that what you want a university to do? I tend to say we should try to avoid that. We should not be the research and development arm of any company.”

UC Davis vice-chancellor Klein rejects the notion that the university is an R&D arm for anybody. Industry sponsors always are pushing “to get us to be more in line with what they want from us,” he says, “and we always push back.” If it did turn out that some UC Davis professor’s research helped make tobacco product more acceptable, Klein says, “I would certainly do my best to discourage that from happening. But academic freedom is built into my soul and the soul of the university.”

Still, many believe that partnering with the cigarette companies is essentially different from dealing with other corporations in at least one respect. As the critics put it, “The tobacco industry is the one industry whose products, when used exactly as prescribed, kill you.”

How much preventable disease and shortened life and death has the UC Davis sensory-science research for the tobacco industry been responsible for? No one can say for certain. But the internal documents of the tobacco industry and the university suggest that those numbers are more than zero.