UC Follows (and Questions) the Tobacco Money

The University of California system is debating whether UC schools should continue to accept research funding from tobacco companies. Proponents of the funding invoke the slippery-slope argument, saying if UC refuses tobacco funds, then pharmaceutical companies might be next. Others argue that eliminating tobacco funding would infringe on academics’ freedom of speech. In August 2006, a federal court found major U.S. tobacco companies guilty of committing fraud, conspiracy and racketeering over four decades, in an effort to create doubt in the public’s mind about health harms from tobacco smoke. The court ruling focused on the fact that tobacco industry funding of research at prestigious medical schools and universities was essential to its illegal enterprise. Others found guilty of unrelated fraud charges include former Illinois governor George Ryan, former Enron executives Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, and former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers. The University of California regents might ask whether it would be appropriate to accept funding from these other offenders, who committed similar crimes as the tobacco industry, but over far shorter amounts of time and resulting in far fewer deaths.