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Editor Quits in Tobacco Protest

The editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) resigned a professorship this week in protest of his university's decision to accept a $5.4 million handout from the tobacco industry. The University of Nottingham stated that it has no plans to relinquish the cash. After putting his decision to a vote of BMJ readers, the editor quit.

A few weeks ago, BMJ editor Richard Smith threatened to resign if the university refused to return funding from the British American Tobacco (BAT) company (ScienceNOW, 3 May)--funding budgeted to build a new center for research into corporate social responsibility. In an editorial in the 5 May issue of the BMJ, Smith argued that the university had "crossed a dangerous line" and is debasing itself by accepting this funding, and that BAT is hoping for "a place in heaven after a lifetime of evil."

BMJ readers were subsequently invited to have their say, in an online vote posted on the journal's Web site. Smith promised to resign his part-time position as professor of medical journalism if the majority agreed that the university should refuse BAT funding. More than a thousand BMJ readers voted, with 84% in favor of the university returning the cash and 54% agreeing that Smith should resign if it refused.

Meanwhile, the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC), one of the U.K.'s largest funders of cancer research, has also expressed its disapproval. Today it announced that a CRC-funded professor will move his gene-targeted drug design research group from the university. The CRC added that it is canceling a proposed fundraising appeal worth more than $2 million to replace out-of-date buildings. "Accepting the tainted tobacco cash has backfired on the university," says Gordon McVie, director-general of the CRC.

Related site

Smith's resignation letter, with a link to results of the online vote