Undercover operation


By David Concar and Michael Day THE American tobacco giant Philip Morris secretly recruited influential people to help allay fears about the health risks from passive smoking, according to a memo dating from 1990. Among those claimed to be acting as consultants were an adviser to a British parliamentary committee and “an editor” of The Lancet. The memo is one of 39 000 tobacco industry documents central to a lawsuit by the state of Minnesota, which aimed to recover from the tobacco industry the costs of treating illness caused by smoking. The case was settled last week. Philip Morris’s index of the documents it handed over says the memo came from the London offices of its lawyers Covington and Burling. Under the heading “Lancet” the document says: “One of our consultants is an editor of this very influential British medical journal, and is continuing to publish numerous reviews, editorials and comments on ETS [environmental tobacco smoke] and other issues.” Elsewhere, the document says that other consultants include an “advisor to a particularly relevant House of Commons select committee” and several “members of the working groups of the International Agency for Research on Cancer”. The IARC is the UN agency in Lyon that rates the cancer risks of pollutants, foods and chemicals. The document defines consultants as people who “are not paid unless and until they actually perform work”. The claim about The Lancet, which has been highly critical of the tobacco industry, will amaze and shock medical researchers. “The documents reveal a cynical attempt by Philip Morris to infiltrate some of the most respected institutions in science,” says Clive Bates, director of Action on Smoking and Health in London. The Lancet’s current editor, Richard Horton, who did not work for the journal when the memo was written, told New Scientist: “I have spoken to senior editors who worked at The Lancet in March 1990 and who then had responsibility for the journal’s content. They have absolutely no knowledge of Covington and Burling’s European Consultancy Programme . . . A review of The Lancet’s coverage of smoking in 1989 and 1990 shows that all published research articles, editorials and reviews emphasised the adverse effects of smoking, including environmental tobacco smoke.”* Paolo Boffetta, head of cancer epidemiology at the IARC, says the agency has not knowingly worked with Philip Morris consultants. “But we don’t know everybody connected to the industry,” he says. The memo does not name any of the consultants. Indeed, it stresses the “continuing need for care and discretion in the groups’ activities to protect their usefulness”. Despite repeated requests, neither Philip Morris nor Covington and Burling supplied a spokesperson for comment. However, the reference to a House of Commons committee would appear to refer to its Environment Committee, which published a report on indoor pollution in 1991. One of its advisers was the late Roger Perry, an environmental scientist at Imperial College, London. Other documents among the 39 000 state that Perry was paid by Philip Morris to carry out research. Frank Cranmer, clerk to the committee at that time,
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