Smoke Rises From Controversial Grant

The editor of a major medical journal has threatened to quit his professorship at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom if the university fails to return a $5.4 million grant it has received from the British American Tobacco (BAT) company. Nottingham officials have no intention of relinquishing the money, which they plan to use to help finance a center on corporate social responsibility at the university's business school.

In an editorial in the 5 May issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), editor Richard Smith argued that the university had "crossed a dangerous line." He stated that the tobacco industry had "systematically, and often covertly, tried to undermine the science" linking tobacco and diseases like lung cancer. By accepting the cash, Smith wrote, "Nottingham University looks either grasping, naive or foolish; all are bad for a university that wants to be a world leader in thinking and study." BAT declined to comment.

In a counterpoint in BMJ, Nottingham University Vice Chancellor Sir Colin Campbell said he had honored an agreement between the U.K. charity Cancer Research Campaign and a committee of top university officials called Universities UK, allowing universities to accept tobacco industry cash for any project other than health-related research. The future Nottingham research center, Campbell argued, will provide "high-quality, globally relevant input to corporate social responsibility."

BMJ readers are invited to give their say on the journal's Web site. If the majority think the university should return the cash, Smith will quit his professorship in protest if the university does not comply. But that won't mean financial hardship. His appointment at Nottingham in 1994 called for him to spend only 4 or 5 days a year teaching, running writing workshops, and giving occasional lectures. He confesses he has spent even less time than that on the campus, and notes that he has not received payment from the university since an initial $425 check.

Related sites

The British Medical Journal
The University of Nottingham