Researchers at the University of Stirling in Scotland are embroiled in a fight against tobacco giant Philip Morris International (the maker of Marlboro cigarettes) over data University researchers collected on children’s and teens’ attitudes toward smoking and cigarette packaging. The company has submitted two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for access to all the raw data collected by Stirling’s Centre for Tobacco Control Research, which includes interviews with over 5,500 youngsters aged between 11 and 16.
"They wanted everything we had ever done on this," Gerard Hastings, the institute's director, told The Independent. "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."
Philip Morris International had originally submitted a request for the information anonymously through a London law firm in September 2009, but was rejected on account of the anonymity. However, the Scottish information officer in charge of the case has ruled the University must respond to the two latest requests, The Guardian reports.
Although the identity of the studies’ participants will remain confidential, Hastings fears that handing over the data will have several negative repercussions for the Centre’s world-renowned research on tobacco use. For example, it might discourage future volunteers from participating and sharing personal information with the researchers. It might also make researchers in other institutions weary of sharing their data.
“Our funders will have to think carefully about the further funding of our research," Hastings told The Independent. “I don't think for one moment a cancer charity is going to take kindly to paying us hundreds of thousands of pounds to give aid and succour to a multinational tobacco corporation.” (Hat tip to The Chronicle)