Phillip Morris’s FOI is in the Public Interest

The BBC gave headline news today about a FOI request by Phillip Morris about Government funded research. The Guardian and Telegraph joined in as well. This is a comment left at Bishop Hill.

There are some legitimate reasons why a cigarette company (and the general public) might want to know more details of a research study. This is Government-funded research to justify legislation, without counter-studies for balance. Bearing in mind that the study was of 6,000 young people, who the Professors believe are highly impressionable from marketing.

1.    Were the questions neutral and held in a neutral venue?

2.    Did the resulting peer-reviewed article draw conclusions that the data substantiates? Are they statistically significant?

3.    Can other conclusions be drawn by the data?

It should be borne in mind by those who jump to conclusions that

a)    The two professors who did the study have PhDs in marketing and in social policy.

b)    The study is not about the health affects of smoking. It is about justifying compulsory neutral packaging for cigarettes.

c)    This particular study is very difficult to find on the internet, and is not listed on either of their websites amongst the publications. One has a list of over eighty.

One of the Professors was co-author of a similar study (only with adults), which got an unfavourable review in the Guardian. This time the sample size was 43, divided into 3 distinct groups.

The level of research into the harm smoking can cause is considerable and of high quality. The original British Doctors Study than confirmed the link between both lung cancer and coronary thrombosis was ground-breaking statistically. That does not mean that all the policy research is of a similar quality.

It is my belief Government social policy should aim at the net improvement of society. That implies that in funding research into social policy there is a duty of care to ensure balance, and that conclusions are robust. There are very legitimate reasons that this line of research falls short.

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