Aside from the occasional cigar (once every five years or so), I’m one of those smug “never smoked” gits. You then might think that I’m all for plain packaging, not publishing tobacco industry funded research, and completely against the “normalization” of smoking via the evidently evil medium of e cigarettes.

The truth is, as I’ve said before in this column, as long as I’m not forced to breathe your smoke, I don’t actually care. If you want to smoke, or (to choose a couple of random things that I don’t want to try either, thankyouverymuch) jump out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane with a piece of silk tied to your back or throw yourself off a bridge with a length of rope around your ankles, then go ahead, be my guest. I like to think we live in a free society where if you’re a grown up and not harming anyone else then you’re big enough to make your own decisions.

Sadly, it seems that I’m deluded.

Our society is not free, and nowhere is this more evident than in the continuing demonization of people who like to smoke cigarettes. Now, yes, I’m all for keeping your smoke away from my nose, but when it comes to publicly shaming smokers each time they go to buy a packet of Marlboro Lights (That’s “Marlboro Gold Pack” to you) then my libertarian trigger finger gets a little bit itchy. And as for banning of vaping in public places in the name of shaming I’m going positively postal.

(Aside as e cigarettes have become more common, so have cases of poisoning from accidental ingestion of the liquid, which you just know is going to be used as an argument for the complete banning of e cigarettes. Big surprise. People are stupid and accidentally swallow bleach. We should ban bleach, yeah.)

And then we have scientific and medical journals who, on principle, refuse to publish any research that is even part funded by the tobacco industry. The latest such to come to my attention (tip of the fag, I mean hat, to Christopher Snowden on Twitter) is the European Journal of Public Health. Who, interestingly, say,

In reaching this decision, we are fully aware of the arguments that, as long as there is full disclosure of conflicts of interest, readers can decide for themselves about how to interpret the findings in published papers. Moreover, the peer review process should remove those papers that are seriously flawed or fraudulent.

The authors of this editorial statement (which sadly is not freely available) then add, “Yet we know from experience that this view is na ve.”

As Christopher Snowden put it, this is an implicit admission that their peer review process is not up to snuff. It’s also quite an insult to the intelligence of the readers of the journal.

We know the tobacco industry will do all it can to (a) sell more cigarettes and (b) convince us that smoking isn’t as harmful as we think. Equally, the pharmaceutical industry wants to sell more drugs, some of which have undoubtedly caused more harm than good, and has a pretty piss poor track record when it comes to publishing unbiased research. Some would argue that pharma funded research also shouldn’t be published.

So what do we publish? What research funding is clean? Fully two thirds of research and development in this country is funded by industry or other commercial concerns. What about the remaining third? Are the academics shining beacons of ethical purity? Do they not have financial interests, tenure track positions to consolidate, grants and students to secure?

Of course they do. No researcher is entirely disinterested and free of inducements to bad behaviour even if their conflict of interest is a pet hypothesis, it’s still a source of bias that should be scrutinised as thoroughly as any piece of tobacco industry funded research. Hell, the mere act of publishing is the biggest conflict of interest of all.

The solution to conflicts of interest and outright lies is not to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, but to bring it out into the open where everybody can have a look and a poke and, where appropriate, a damned good heckle. Publishing a piece of research is always only the beginning of the conversation it means nothing until it gets to be torn apart by your peers and in the fullness of time, replicated by independent parties.

Rather than not publishing anything funded by industry interests (and after all, there are enough fly by night operations that will publish any old shit, peer reviewed or not), reputable journals should gladly accept research funded by industry any industry. They should arrange for thorough peer review and insist on public disclosure of all data, and flag to readers where there is suspicion of wrongdoing.

Some published research is toxic, and can derail a field for years to come. But that happens regardless of the source of funding. At least with declared conflicts of interest you know to be suspicious and you might even find something useful.

And above all, it’s time to stop treating us like children.

Richmond, va.: tobacco cos. make payments under state settlement


RICHMOND, Va. The nation’s top cigarette makers said Tuesday they have made about $6 billion in annual payments as part of a longstanding settlement in which some companies are paying states for smoking related health care costs.

Under the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, participating tobacco companies agreed to make billions in payments to 46 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the District of Columbia over more than two decades. States first received full payments under the settlement in 1999. It was estimated that the companies would pay up to $246 billion over 25 years. Future annual payments also will continue in perpetuity.

The billions in annual payments come amid criticism from public health officials that states are using only a small amount of the money to fund tobacco prevention programs, making it harder to reduce death and disease caused by tobacco use. The settlement did not mandate that the money was to be used for anti tobacco and stop smoking programs.

While states on average have never spent as much the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would like, the total has declined dramatically in recent years as states have grappled with budget deficits. Many also have raised tobacco taxes in order to increase revenue and supplement funds provided by the tobacco industry.

Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest cigarette maker owned by Altria Group Inc., said Tuesday that it made its payment of about $3.3 billion as part of the settlement.

The Richmond based maker of Marlboro, Virginia Slims and Parliament cigarettes said the payment includes an undisclosed amount that it says it doesn’t owe that was deposited into a separate account. The company will try to get it back through negotiations or arbitration, as allowed under the settlement.

No. 2 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., owned by Reynolds American Inc., based in Winston Salem, N.C., paid $1.77 billion this year. The maker of Camel, Pall Mall, Kool and other brands deposited a portion it disputes&#x2014 $421 million &#x2014 into a separate account.

No. 3 Lorillard Inc., Greensboro, N.C. based maker of Newport, True and Maverick brand cigarettes, paid $1.1 billion this year, including $93 million it disputes.

Philip Morris USA said it has paid more than $66 billion under the settlement and previous agreements since 1997. RJR has paid more than $33 billion under the agreements, and Lorillard has paid more than $16 billion.

Michael Felberbaum can be reached at