Report links scientist to tobacco company

 

A leading UK medical journal, the Lancet, is investigating claims that a US tobacco company recruited a senior staff member as a consultant.

The claim was made in documents released by the tobacco giant, Philip Morris, according to a report in the New Scientist. The 39,000 documents were handed over in a lawsuit taken against the firm by the state of Minnesota.

The New Scientist report also named a prominent Irish public health researcher who worked at Trinity College, Dr Petr Skrabanek, now deceased, as having worked for the tobacco industry.

The report said the released documents included correspondence between Philip Morris and its London law firm, Covington and Burling, which described efforts to recruit influential people to help allay fears about the risks of passive smoking.

The documents, reportedly dating from 1990, claimed to have recruited "an editor" of the Lancet and an adviser to a UK parliamentary committee, according to New Scientist. It also mentioned a consultant who had published a book called Follies and Fallacies in Medicine. Dr Skrabanek was not named in these documents, but the book was co-written by him, and New Scientist published his name.

Prof James McCormick, emeritus professor of community health at Trinity and close colleague of Dr Skrabanek, said yesterday he was "enormously distressed" by the claims. The two co-wrote several papers in the Lancet, he said.

Dr Skrabanek had a high profile here for his challenging views on public health issues including breast cancer and cervical screening and also on issues related to smoking.

Covington and Burling would make no comment yesterday. The Lancet editor, Mr Richard Horton, said in a statement the magazine had no knowledge of the alleged recruitment programme.