Lung Cancer, Spiral CT and Tobacco Industry Funding

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An interesting article was published in the New York Times yesterday, revealing that one of the studies reporting the most positive effects on the potential of spiral CT in detecting early stage lung cancer, was funded by the tobacco industry. The article raises questions about the motivations from the tobacco industry to fund such a study, and the reasons for lung cancer researchers accepting research funding to investigate lung cancer screening from the tobacco industry.

In fact, the story is a little more complicated. The study was part funded by an organization called, “Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment”. The New York Times examined tax records and discovered that this foundation is mainly funded via a grant from Ligett Group, which makes a number of brand-name cigarettes. The article suggests the possibility that the foundation may have been set up to hide the original source of the funding, and numerous senior cancer researchers and journal editors stated that they were shocked to find out that the research had been funded by a tobacco company.

Within the medical research community there is wide acceptance of pharmaceutical company funding for research and educational purposes. While we are all aware of cases of unethical behavior by pharmaceutical companies, their overall mission is to improve health and is entirely consistent with that of academic medical researchers. The tobacco industry, on the other hand, has a long history of trying to misuse research to sell more cigarettes: virtually the only legal consumer product that is lethal to the user when used as intended. So many academic institutions (including my own, the School of Public Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey) have an explicit policy of not seeking or accepting funding from the tobacco industry, other than that resulting from a law suit against the industry. The other issue brought up by the NY Times article is that of disclosure of funding sources. There is a sense that while we all may have a right to earn a living as we see fit, when it comes to medical research and informing the public about health matters, we should try to be up front in disclosing the sources of our funding.

Sometimes this is more difficult than you might expect. For example, for some time now I have taken to sending a rather long statement about my own funding to journals when I submit a paper for publication. But the journal editors make the decision as to what is most relevant to print as a statement of funding or potential conflict of interest. I happen to feel this is an important issue and so I’m attaching my own funding statement to the bottom of this article.

Funding statement. This statement provides a brief summary of the sources of funding for Jonathan Foulds PhD

Jonathan Foulds is primarily funded by a grant from New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. His other recent research funding (also as P.I.) is from the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Rutgers Community Health Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He has worked as a consultant, as a promotional speaker and received honoraria from pharmaceutical companies involved in production of tobacco dependence treatment medications (e.g. Pfizer, Novartis, GSK, Celtic Pharma) as well as a variety of agencies involved in promoting health (e.g. W.H.O., N.I.H., etc). Some of these agencies have provided sponsorship funds for educational events conducted by the program he directs. The program he directs (Tobacco Dependence Program at UMDNJ-School of Public Health) conducts trainings and charges health professionals and their organizations for providing these. He has also worked as an expert witness in litigation, including for plaintiffs in law suits against tobacco companies. He has not received any funding from the tobacco industry other than deposition fees from defendants attorneys in litigation against the tobacco industry (i.e. while acting as a witness for the plaintiffs). He is paid for writing a regular column on a health website: http://www.healthline.com/blogs/smoking_cessation/ .
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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