Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), signed a secret contract in 2006 to do research for Philip Morris Altria Group, the nation’s largest tobacco company. The VCU scientists were given money to study how to identify early warning signs of pulmonary disease, and how to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus drained into rivers from processing tobacco leaves. What is shocking is the extremely restrictive terms that the university must follow. Some were:
A. Professors are not allowed to publish the results of the studies with out tobacco company’s permission
B. Professors are not allowed to talk about the results without the tobacco companies permission
C. All patent and other intellectual property rights go to the tobacco company, not the university or its professors
D. The contract also includes a longer than usual time (180 days) for Philip Morris Altria Group to review and grant/deny permission to VCU for any possible publications by the researchers. VCU’s own guidelines state that any industry reviews take no more than 90 days.
More shocking is that the VCU even admits that it knew that many of the provisions violated the university’s guidelines for industry-sponsored research. About 15 public health and medical schools no longer accept donations from the tobacco industry, and many major research universities continue to do so only if guaranteed independence to carry out the research and publish the results. Universities should not take money from tobacco companies because of the public health impact of smoking and the tobacco industry’s past misuse of scientific research.
Marriott Hotels are about to violate its no-smoking policy–which went into effect in September 2006–when its New York Marriott Marquis property hosts an event for Cigar Aficionado magazine next month.
There are two issues involved first, New York City law prohibits smoking anywhere in a hotel though it does exempt smoking in rooms that are “used exclusively for functions where the public is invited for the primary purpose of promoting and sampling tobacco products, and the service of food and drink is incidental to such purpose.” The event is being promoted, food and drink are not incidental, but an integral part of the event. This is an issue in that non-smoking Marriott hotel staff will be forced to be exposed to harmful second hand smoke. It is unclear if staff that refuse to work the event will lose their job.
The second issue is that Marriott’s own stated policy to be 100 percent smoke free, which includes all guest rooms, restaurants, lounges, meeting rooms, public space and employee work areas. Once a corporation makes a public promise, they’re bound by it unless they publicly announce that they’re changing it. For example, a recent case where McDonald’s paid an $8 million settlement for not publicizing a delay in implementing its publicly announced promise to remove trans fat from its food. Marriott simply cannot grasp the honorable title of 100% Non-smoking hotels and all of the press and other good things that come from that declaration…and then not honor that policy.
Kathleen Duffy, public relations at Marriott Hotels, says that while it is true that Marriott International announced last year that its hotels in North America would be smoke-free, Marriott has a contractual obligation to hold the event. Duffy adds that the hotel plans to do major commercial cleaning, filtering, and venting of the Marquis ballroom, where the Big Smoke will be held. She also says, “I can confirm that we have a contract [for the Big Smoke event] for this year and at least next year at the Marriott Marquis.”
This year the American Public Health Association will be holding it annual meeting in Washington DC. Some participants will be staying at the Marriott at Metro Center the week of November 5. If the Marriott continues I would suggest that all APHA members Boycott all Marriott hotels during the 2008 October 25-29 annual meeting in San Diego.