Ongoing relationships between the tobacco industry and universities: an insidious obstacle to tobacco control
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University of Alabama, Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, United States of America
Publication date: 2018-03-01
Tob. Induc. Dis. 2018;16(Suppl 1):A86
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Although more than 1750 colleges and universities in the US alone have become smokefree campuses over the past 20 years (including nearly 1500 that claim to have adopted entirely tobaccofree policies), progress in reducing cigarette, smokelsss tobacco, and hookah use among US university students has slowed. Prevalence may be as high as 25%. Globally, reported smoking prevalence among university students ranges from 14% in Brazil to 60% in Bangladesh. A little-studied obstacle to reducing tobacco use among university students is the ongoing financial relationships between the tobacco industry and academia.

A review of tobacco company annual reports, teacher pension fund holdings, tobacco industry documents, campus career center websites, tobacco company websites, and tobacco industry trade publications over the past 25 years was conducted in order to gauge the extent of the relationships between tobacco companies and universities. Documentation was also compiled of the prominent presence of cigarette company recruiters at campus job fairs through attendance at more than 20 such events.

Significant ongoing ties between the tobacco industry and academia include funding of research, investment in tobacco stocks by university endowments and faculty pension funds, involvement in business school curricula, and underwriting of lectureships, professorships, and career centers. The world´s largest cigarette company, Philip Morris, continues to recruit students at career center job fairs on more than 35 US university campuses for internships and post-graduate positions as Marlboro territory sales managers. The company´s recruitment slogan is "Can´t Beat the Experience". Few university endowments have divested tobacco stocks. Nor has the largest college teacher pension fund, TIAA-CREF, which remains a major investor in Philip Morris.

Although progress has been made in reducing tobacco use on university campuses, coordinated strategies to diminish the influence of the tobacco industry in academia are lagging and require greater attention by tobacco control proponents.

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