Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2004

Canada’s medical schools accept funding from Big Tobacco, study finds

Jenn Hardy

You have to wonder what the staff at Canada’s medical schools are smoking. At least one quarter of the schools have accepted money from Big Tobacco to fund their operations, according to a study conducted by the University of Toronto’s Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in May.

Four of the country’s 16 medical schools admitted to accepting research-targeted grants between 1996 and 1999, and three said they accepted donations, which are not tied to specific research projects. The average grant was for more than $160,000, while the average donation came in at $18,000. “It’s not surprising that the tobacco industry gives money to medical schools,” says Joanna Cohen, the study’s principal researcher. “I am disappointed that the medical schools would actually take the money.”

The figures might actually be much higher considering five medical schools refused to disclose financial information.

Cohen can’t name the schools that admitted to accepting the cash because researchers promised respondents they would remain anonymous. “Anonymity is a common research practice as far as individuals are concerned, so we decided to extend this to the universities, to take all precautions to get the best results.”

None of the schools that participated in the study has a policy preventing it from accepting money from the tobacco industry. Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, says that’s a huge problem and something medical schools have to change soon. “It was a little bit of a hidden issue,” says Callard. “But now it’s been brought to light and something should be done about it.”

In Australia, 70 percent of medical faculties have policies against accepting tobacco funds. Unfortunately, things do not seem to be moving very quickly here in Canada. Audrey Cheung, director of research grants at U of T, says the school has no policy regarding the acceptance of tobacco funding, nor does the university plan on adopting a ban. “I’m not aware of any move in that direction,” she says, “either at the university or at the faculty level.”

Show Comments