I wrote: "Since [Judge Kessler's] decision, it has become very difficult to find an academic medical or public health institution that is willing to accept tobacco funding. There is still, however, a last refuge for tobacco industry-sponsored research. There is a last bastion of acquiescence in the historical tobacco industry scheme to gain a public relations victory by allying itself with academia and pretending to be an objective, scientific voice in the smoking debate. There is still one academic center that is allowing itself to be used as a pawn in the marketing of cigarettes. That last bastion is the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation."
Today, I reveal that another center at Duke University - the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy - is also taking Big Tobacco funding.
The Rest of the Story
At the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, "faculty and staff work together to discover and evaluate strategies to improve outcomes for children and families and to share their discoveries with policymakers and public agencies."
One of the strategies to improve outcomes for children and families that you won't see the Center sharing with policymakers is increasing cigarette taxes or imposing financial penalties on tobacco companies to fund aggressive anti-smoking media campaigns that demonstrate to youth the role of the tobacco industry in the smoking epidemic.
The Center's hands are tied because it is funded by Philip Morris.
Moreover, by accepting this funding, the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy is serving a public relations function for Philip Morris. It is helping Philip Morris to improve its public image by associating the tobacco company with the academic name and reputation of Duke.
In United States of America v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., et al. (Civil Action No. 99-2496 [GK]), the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found that tobacco industry funding of university research has long been part of an illegal enterprise that violates federal anti-racketeering law. The Court found that tobacco industry funding of university research was essentially a public relations ploy to undermine the public’s appreciation of the harms of smoking while making it appear that the tobacco companies were concerned corporate citizens interested in advancing objective scientific research.
The most important role of industry funding of research has been to refurbish the public image – especially the scientific image – of the tobacco companies: “Robert Seligman, Vice President of R&D of Philip Morris, described how Defendants used institutional grants to refurbish their scientific image. Seligman reported that … Shook, Hardy & Bacon attorney William Shinn had stated: “CTR began to lose their luster in the mid-60’s and the tobacco industry looked around for more beneficial ways to spend their research dollars on smoking and health. It was at this time that special projects were instituted at Washington University, Harvard University, and UCLA. … The industry received a major public relation ‘plus’ when monies were given to Harvard Medical school.” (page 148)
In fact, the chief public relations advantage gained by the industry granting money to an institution is the good will associated with the university’s name: “Arnold Henson of American [Brands Tobacco Company] acknowledged that one of the main reasons for the Harvard project was the ‘PR value of the Harvard name.’” (page 148)
In the opinion of the Court, the external research funding of the tobacco companies served as a way for the tobacco companies to coordinate their fraudulent activities, in violation of federal law (page 1541).
Brown & Williamson was quite explicit in acknowledging that the Council for Tobacco Research - the major research funding arm of the tobacco industry for many years - was essentially a public relations ploy, saying that “CTR was organized as a public relations effort” (page 50).
By accepting funding from Big Tobacco, the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy is allowing itself to serve as a pawn in Philip Morris' public relations strategy.
The rest of the story is that rather than being a model for child and family policy for the nation, Duke is instead an example of exactly the opposite. It is perhaps a model, but a model for the most egregious violation of academic ethics. Duke is allowing itself and its reputation and good name to be used as a public relations ploy for a tobacco company. Duke is allowing itself to be used as a pawn in the public relations and marketing strategy of Philip Morris.
By associating its name with that of Duke University, Philip Morris is using Duke to gain public relations marketing value from that association. This is public relations 101. Using corporate funding to secure public credibility and respect. It was part of Philip Morris' (and the other tobacco companies') playbook for decades.
The rest of the story is that Duke continues to undermine its own scientific integrity and that of academia as a whole by allowing itself to serve as a pawn in the tobacco industry's public relations and marketing strategy. A university - and especially a child policy center - should not play a role in marketing the most deadly consumer product. But that is exactly what Duke is doing.
Rather than being recognized as a model for child and family policy, the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy should instead be entered into the Hall of Shame as a center that puts money over ethical integrity.