Tobacco Industry Pays Scientists to Challenge Secondhand Smoke's Link to Infant Death Risk

By Wallace Ravven, UCSF News Services | March 7, 2005

The link between secondhand smoke and sudden infant death has been discredited in the last few years in scientific articles paid for and influenced by cigarette manufacturers, according to a new study of once-secret industry documents.

The key article, commissioned by Philip Morris and published in a respected pediatric epidemiology journal in 2001, discounts the significance of research showing a link between exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The article has been cited in at least 19 other scientific papers, misleading physicians, their patients and researchers about the risk of secondhand smoke exposure.*

"Undermining peopleIs understanding of the link between secondhand smoke and SIDS places infants everywhere at increased risk," according to Stanton Glantz, PhD, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UCSF and senior author of the new study analyzing the tobacco company documents.

Analysis of the Philip Morris documents shows that the company sought and paid an author to write an article for publication in a scientific journal, guided his writing and suggested changes in his conclusions in order to call into question the published studies showing links between secondhand cigarette smoke and SIDS.

The new report was prepared by researchers at UCSF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and appears in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The article Philip Morris commissioned was part of the company's overall scientific strategic plan for addressing secondhand smoke (SHS) and childhood health issues, the documents show. One document summarized the "impact assessment" for this project as follows: "Should provide the necessary scientific background for a policy on the acceptability of smoking around children."

The key article acknowledges that smoking during pregnancy can endanger the fetus, but casts doubt on the published scientific finding that secondhand smoke increases the risk of sudden infant death -- a finding highlighted in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and reinforced by the California Environmental Protection Agency in 1997.

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