Their learned friends

By David Concar CONSULTANTS working for the American tobacco firm Philip Morris secretly engineered the creation of a learned scientific society, according to industry documents. The society was designed to be sympathetic to the industry’s position on passive smoking, and provided an outlet for material undermining the idea that second-hand smoke is a major cause of illnesses by shifting the blame to building design and ventilation. Indoor Air International (IAI) was born in 1989, but was renamed the International Society of the Built Environment six years later. Based in Geneva, the society organises conferences, publishes a journal and acts as a forum for research into such areas as sick building syndrome and the hazards of microscopic airborne fibres and particles. Outwardly, there is little evidence of a link with the tobacco industry. Yet documents made public as a result of legal action in the US tell a different story. A memo dating from 1988 reveals how representatives from Philip Morris met officials from other tobacco firms in London to discuss strategies for clouding the evidence concerning the dangers of passive smoking. One suggestion was to recruit scientists without connections to the tobacco industry to act as consultants who would write articles, review data and attend conferences. The campaign would stress the harm done by poor ventilation and pollutants other than tobacco smoke. At the meeting was George Leslie, a freelance toxicologist, who put forward the names of 18 scientists, most of them at British universities, who might be coopted into such a campaign. IAI was formed a year later. Five out of seven of its founding members were scientists included in Leslie’s list. Other scientists named in the meeting later appeared on the editorial board of the society’s journal. The memo to Philip Morris from its lawyers detailing the company’s European Consultancy Programme (see “Undercover operation”) also refers to IAI: “Our consultants created the world’s only learned society addressing questions of indoor air quality.” And a memo written in 1991 by Helmut Gaisch, director of science at Philip Morris Europe, says of IAI: “No other resource gives the industry any similar access to the scientific community, government and those who make decisions about IAQ [indoor air quality] issues and standards.” John Hoskins of the Medical Research Council’s toxicology unit at Leicester, the current editor of the society’s journal, says he is “surprised” by the documents. If there were any links with the tobacco industry, he says,
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