Tobacco ban redux

The University of California’s Board of Regents took up the issue of a ban on tobacco-industry-research funding at its recent UC Davis meeting and, lo and behold, decided that professors can continue taking tobacco money. No surprise there. The Regents seemed destined to side with faculty members, who argue that a ban on funding would constitute a violation of academic freedom.

We disagree. Imposing a ban on tobacco research funding would have been an expression of academic freedom, not its violation. As we wrote previously on this topic in this space: What’s the point of freedom if it’s not used in making a choice?

Still, we were pleased that the Regents at least voted to adopt more oversight when it comes to accepting tobacco funds. Though far short of a ban, UC profs who accept monies from tobacco companies will now need to get approval from their peers and the chancellor of their campus, as well as report to the regents on the nature of the study. The regents also agreed to write a statement urging researchers to “exercise the utmost care to assure that their research adheres to the highest scientific and ethical standards.”

Next time the subject arises, perhaps the Regents will take a lesson from the Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University schools of medicine, both of which have forthrightly issued bans on accepting tobacco-industry money for research.

Let’s not forget, this is an industry that kills people—over 400,000 deaths annually in the United States and over 5 million per year globally.