The tobacco industry is subject to policies that uniquely restrict how it conducts its R&D activities. This is despite the fact that it is a legitimate business with a product that is consumed by more than a billion people globally – the cigarette. It has long been established that smoking poses serious risks to health.
British American Tobacco (BAT) spends millions trying to understand the mechanism by which tobacco causes harm and how we might modify our products to reduce harm. The science involved is challenging and spans many disciplines, and we want to bring the best minds to bear on the challenge of reducing tobacco-related harm. However, while some of our detractors also expect, and indeed demand, that we do reduce tobacco-related harm, they have made it very difficult for us to do so due to policies restricting tobacco industry funding of research.
This February, John Denham, UK Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, called for an increase in private investment in research. Yet the policies of many research institutes and funding bodies in the UK, and some other countries, mean that we are prohibited from funding or working with many of the scientists that we would like to. The funding policies of Cancer Research UK (CRUK), for example, one of the most powerful research charities in the country, makes it impossible for researchers to collaborate with us. Any researcher who accepts funding from a tobacco company has to give up any chance of getting CRUK funding in the future and their entire faculty and institution may also lose any chance of funding.
While we can and do collaborate and fund research projects, most of these funds leave the country. But we are a UK company, based in the UK. We know that many of the world’s leading scientists are also based here, and we want to work with them. But we have been restricted in our activities to the extent that many UK researchers are today unaware that we do any research, let alone the range of our research activities, including investigating the science of tobacco harm reduction.
BAT has had an R&D centre in Southampton for more than 50 years and in the past five years, we have increased our R&D expenditure, including our efforts in harm reduction. Our efforts to reduce toxicants in tobacco products now span research fields as diverse as tobacco biotechnology and combustion chemistry.
We have already lost important opportunities because we cannot collaborate with top UK universities. UK scientists lead scientific research in many areas that are relevant to our research, such as combustion, analytical chemistry, biology and human disease processes. These areas of expertise are essential to develop the materials and technologies required to produce novel tobacco products with reduced levels of toxicants and to understand how these toxicants interact with the body. This work is essential to establishing whether reduced toxicant levels actually equate to reduced health risks.
The reality is that tobacco products are going to be around for the foreseeable future. According to the World Health Organization, population growth means it is likely that hundreds of millions of adults will continue to consume tobacco products for many years to come.
Surelyitisrightthatthesetobaccoproductscomply with regulations and the legitimate companies, that pay taxes, actively seek to reduce the risks associated with their products?
We are currently studying Swedish style snus, a smokeless tobacco that has been shown to be significantly safer than cigarettes (Tobacco Control 2001, 10, 253). Although as a tobacco product, it is not without health risks.
There has to be a way that UK-based researchers who want to work with a responsible tobacco company can do so. There must be a way forward that takes adequate account of the needs for transparency and appropriate governance of any research projects to allay any fears of those who have concerns over tobacco industry funding.
We provide grants to individual researchers, networks of researchers and those working in research collaborations internationally.We also support research studentships and PhDs. For more information, go to our dedicated science website www.bat-science.com, where in the spirit of openess and transparency, we give an overview of our research activities and access to our scientific publications and presentations.