Exposed: Tobacco industrys' efforts to cast doubt

01/12/05

NB Please note that if your are outside North America, the embargo for LANCET press material is 0001hrs UK time 14 January 2005

This release is also available in German.

The strategies used by the tobacco industry to counteract research linking tobacco smoke to cancer-causing mutations in a gene called p53 are detailed in a study published online (Friday January 14, 2005) in THE LANCET.

Damage to the p53 gene leads to uncontrolled cell division. Mutations in this gene are found in over 50% of all human tumours, including 60% of lung cancers.

Benzo[a]pyrene, a potent carcinogen, was identified in cigarette smoke in 1952. In the 1990's, studies demonstrated patterned changes in p53 after exposure to benzo[a]pyrene. A 1996 landmark study showed benzo[a]pyrene's interaction with p53 mirrored mutations found in actual human lung tumours. This finding provided strong molecular evidence of the direct carcinogenic effect of a tobacco smoke constituent.

Stanton Glantz (University of California, San Francisco, USA) and colleagues examined 43 previously confidential tobacco industry documents relating to p53 and tobacco smoke. The researchers found that prior to 1996, several tobacco companies supported research projects investigating the mechanisms of p53 mutations. Following the 1996 landmark study, tobacco companies planned a number of research projects in response and supported studies which appeared to cast doubt on a link between p53 damage and benzo[a]pyrene in tobacco smoke.

In two instances research arguing against a connection was undertaken and published by individuals with links to tobacco companies. Both studies were published in a journal, whose editor-in-chief, has an extensive and undisclosed history of working as a tobacco industry researcher and consultant.

Professor Glantz comments: "The tobacco companies claim that they are now working with the public health community to 'support a single, consistent public health message on the role played by cigarette smoking in the development of the disease in smokers.' But their multifaceted response to p53 research as recently as 2001, suggests that they have not changed their practices."

Professor Glantz adds: "The extent and sophistication of the tobacco industry involvement in p53 research challenge authors, editors and users of scientific literature to be vigilant in demanding and maintaining rigorous standards for disclosing and evaluating potential conflicts of interest. Universities and other biomedical researchers should stop taking money from the tobacco industry in order to minimise the potential for any impairment of the integrity of the scientific process." (Quote by e-mail; does not appear in published paper)

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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