All’s fair in love and war, except when it comes to tobacco. Non-smokers hate it, while users love the fix from nicotine. Smokers keep dying and have to be replaced, and tobacco companies spend millions on marketing to draw in people. For over 10 years researchers at a university gathered information regarding the smoking habits and attitudes, and reactions to packaging and advertising of teens and young people between 13 and 24 years of age. Now a tobacco company is appealing a decision denying them access to that information. Why? If tobacco companies don’t market to young people, why then do they need that information?
Philip Morris International, the tobacco company demanding the release of the information, is asking Stirling University to hand over everything it has ever done on this research. This information, gathered on thousands of young people, has to do with their attitudes toward smoking and their reactions to packaging and advertising. The tobacco company would not be allowed to collect this information itself on children.
The Scottish university rejected the tobacco company’s request but was overruled by the Scottish information commissioner. According to the tobacco company, they wanted the information with regard to attitudes about plain packaging of cigarettes. The commissioner has not ordered the university to release any of the data, but rather to assess the application, which they have now done. This could become a legal battle between the university and Philip Morris as the tobacco company is appealing the university’s decision not to hand over the data.
It is interesting to note that Philip Morris did not directly request the information through the freedom of information request; it was anonymously requested through a London law firm. The tobacco company went public only after the request was denied by the university.
Plain packaging is a very hot topic in the tobacco industry right now. In June the Food and Drug Administration gave the tobacco industry until September 2012 to implement new packaging designs here in the United States. In August 2011 Australia’s House of Representatives passed both Tobacco Plain Packaging bills which now go to their Senate this month. The tobacco companies have even attempted to get government legal advice for their use to stop this from happening. The public has supported the idea of plain packaging, however the tobacco industry has waged a multi-million dollar media scare campaign against it, citing the market would be flooded with counterfeit cigarettes. If this passes, Australia will become the first country to make it law for cigarettes to be sold in plain packages. Tobacco companies are currently fighting this in court in Australia, and will be spending more money fighting the FDA ruling here in the U.S.
Tobacco companies use their billions of dollars to go after anything, including countries, that stand in their way. This case of demanding research is just one more attempt for the tobacco industry to get what they want; there will be others. The tobacco companies say they don’t market to kids, but demanding the marketing research of thousands of kids says otherwise. If Philip Morris is successful at taking this research, it could jeopardize other future confidential, academic research projects.