Tobacco companies to make their research available on internet
Britain's major tobacco companies have agreed to make their medical research freely available on the internet. Appearing as witnesses to a select committee on health at the House of Commons last week, directors of some of the largest manufacturers, said t
"We would be prepared to make these documents publicly available on the internet," said Peter Wilson, executive chairman of Gallaher Group.
Company directors from British American Tobacco, Philip Morris, and R J Reynolds also agreed that they had no objections to the idea. Only Gareth Davis, chief executive of Imperial Tobacco Group, had reservations, citing "practical and legal issues which would first have to be taken into account."
Information on tobacco research carried out by the industry is held at a depository outside Guilford, Surrey. Researchers have to apply to view the documents, and the waiting list is currently five months long.
The chairman of the select committee, David Hinchliffe, Labour MP for Wakefield, said that it was "ridiculous to expect a researcher to wait until June" to view the documents.
Dr Howard Stoate, Labour MP for Dartford and a practising GP, asked the companies: "Just how much is there actually available to internet researchers right now?"
Directors from R J Reynolds and Imperial Tobacco Group admitted that there was nothing at all, but Martin Broughton, chairman of British American Tobacco, argued that much of his company's research was available at the moment on their US website.
None of the five company representatives claimed to be familiar with the majority of their documents. Mr Broughton agreed that he knew little about the eight million documents held by British American Tobacco.
The issue of advertising standards, particularly those overseas, was also picked up on by the committee. Guidelines for British advertising were not met when targeting British tourists overseas, they claimed.
In particular, English language newspapers in some countries, such as Spain, carried advertisements that seem to contravene rules by the Advertising Standards Agency that forbid the use of glamorous, attractive, and wealthy people in advertisements to promote tobacco.
Mr Broughton said that British American Tobacco did "not take the view that the UK code has worldwide jurisdiction." He also said that he personally did not see any problem with the use of images of such people to market a tobacco product: "I don't think it is wrong not necessarily."