Regents Put Tobacco on Back Burner

    The UC Board of Regents postponed its decision on tobacco-funded research for the second time since the ban was proposed in September, this time to offer faculty a chance to vote on the issue.

    Will Parson/Guardian
    The UC Board of Regents has postponed a vote that would ban research funded by tobacco companies for the second time since the issue was introduced in September to allow faculty input.

    The Jan. 18 meeting, held by the members of the board’s committee on finance, included an updated policy drafted by the UC Office of the President, according to Jennifer Ward, a spokeswoman for UCOP.

    “”The freedom of our academic community to pursue research and educational activities … should be affected by university mandate only in rare and compelling circumstance,”” the policy stated.

    Tobacco companies have awarded $37 million to UC researchers since 1995, a relatively small amount when compared to the $4 billion in contracts and grants awarded to the University of California in the last year alone.

    According to the committee’s report, there are currently “”approximately 19 active grants at UC from sponsors with known ties to the tobacco industry … [they] were awarded by Philip Morris USA, and total approximately $15.8 million.””

    The most controversial part of the policy states that “”no funds from the manufacturers or distributors of tobacco products, their affiliates or any entity controlling or controlled by such companies … are to be used to study tobacco-related diseases, the use of tobacco products or the individual or societal impacts of such use.””

    Critics took issue with the legislation, which some have said could lead to further bans, especially considering the vague wording the policy uses to define what kinds of tobacco-funded research should be permitted.

    “”What they’ve said is, ‘We’ll refuse tobacco funding unless it’s tobacco funding we want,'”” David Burns, a clinical professor at the UCSD School of Medicine, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

    The 10 UC vice chancellors for research will vote against the plan, partly because they are weary of the regents’ blurry distinction and threats on academic freedom, Lawrence Coleman, vice provost for research at the University of California, told the Union-Tribune.

    The regents themselves expressed concern about the policy’s legality. In coming years, the policy could be exploited by those who have objections to certain types of research, such as that funded by pharmaceutical companies or combine race with medicine, Ward said.

    “”Many people feel it’s an important issue in terms of academic freedom and tobacco,”” Ward said, especially since tobacco companies have been in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

    The issue is so important that the regents have decided that faculty need a say in a policy that would directly affect them. Ward said that a vote would provide a “”definitive solution”” on where the faculty stands.

    According to Ward, the vote still needs to be planned or implemented.

    “”This is an issue that will be with us for a while,”” Ward said.

    In May 2005, the regents favored academic freedom and rebuffed the restriction of research funding based on “”the basis of moral or political judgments about the fund source or the propriety of the research, or because of speculations about how the research results might be used.””

    However, the regents have made use of an exception left in the 2005 resolution that allows only the regents to ban research funding sources with this new policy, which was first revisited last September when former Lt. Gov. and ex-officio Regent Cruz Bustamante brought it to the regents.

    Decisions were postponed in both September and October 2006 so that the regents would have time for further information and consideration on the topic.

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