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Phillip Morris demands data on teenage smokers

02 Sep 2011 12:56 BST Back
Phillip Morris demands data on teenage smokers
DMA News

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Philip Morris International (PMI) is battling Stirling University access to academic research into smoking. 

The tobacco manufacturer behind the popular Marlboro brand wants the university’s centre for tobacco control research to hand over its data on thousands of underage smokers.  

Philip Morris has used the Scottish Freedom of Information Act to request access to the data. 

The research into teenage smoking habits looks at why they start smoking and includes confidential interviews with youngsters. 

Stirling University has refused to hand over the data. The centre’s director, Professor Gerard Hastings has accused the tobacco firm of mining his research for data it could not collect itself on medical ethics grounds.  

Professor Hastings said: “This information was given to us by young people in complete confidence. We assured them we would treat it with absolute confidence and that it would be restricted to the research.

“There is no way that Philip Morris qualifies in that definition. It has enormous implications for academic freedom.”

A PMI spokeswoman stressed that the interest in the data was restricted to packaging: “PMI made a Freedom of Information request to understand more about a research project conducted by the University of Stirling regarding plain packaging for cigarettes.

This comes as Australia moves closer towards brand-free packaging - cigarette packets with no company branding or logos and the UK Government considers it as the next step on the tobacco control agenda. 

Writing in The Independent, Steve Connor said “With no advertising on television, billboards, magazines and, from next year, shop displays, the cigarette packet itself has become the only place where companies can freely advertise their brands.”

Critics of the industry argue that while tobacco companies can access government documents, their files and data are so private that it is very rare for them to share information unless they are compelled to do so. 

The Government has launched two consultations on how the private sector might gain greater access to public sector data as part of a bid to establish a culture of openness and transparency in the public sector. 

The Government hopes that this will help promote accountability and public confidence, stimulate efficiency in the public sector and economic growth.

The two consultations, Making Open Data Real and Data Policy for a Public Data Corporation, are open until Thursday 27 October 2011.

Read more about the consultations

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