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Tobacco giant in FoIA controversy

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is using freedom of information laws to try to access scientific research on teenagers’ smoking habits according to an Independent exclusive this week.

The Independent also reveals in a follow up story today that the company, makers of Malboro cigarettes, is also trying to obtain details of meetings between government officials and scientific researchers investigating the public health impacts of new smoking policy.

Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company, is using the FOI (Scotland) Act to request information from Stirling University research that includes young people’s attitudes towards smoking and tobacco marketing.

Scientists at the university say the survey information was collected in confidence. Professor Gerard Hastings, told the Indpependent:

“These are confidential comments about how youngsters feel about tobacco marketing. This is the sort of research that would get a tobacco company into trouble if it did it itself.”

“What is more, these kids have been reassured that only bona fide researchers will have access to their data. No way can Philip Morris fit into that definition.”

The university also revealed that Philip Morris had initially made the requests via a solicitor to hide its involvement. The ICO ruled that the London-based law firm had to name its client to make the requests.

The case raises a number of interesting questions around freedom of information; the nature of confidential information; the idea of a ‘chilling effect’ on scientific or other sensitive work when opened up by FOI; and the use of FOI by corporations acting, some may say, for their own ends and against the public interest.

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