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Dossier #2

UZH - PMI affair

Science for profit : How the University of Zurich sacrificed academic freedom for the benefit of a tobacco company

In 2012, Australia plays a pioneering role in smoking prevention, becoming the first country to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. Fearing that this example would spread like wildfire, the tobacco industry, led by Philip Morris, launches a worldwide campaign against the measure, using every means at its disposal. In particular, it is making extensive use of the legal route to sue Australia in every possible way, before the national supreme court, an international court of arbitration and even the World Trade Organization. However, by choosing this route, the industry is faced with a constraint: judges base their decisions on probative factual elements. This deprives it of the possibility of doing what it has done for over 50 years to defend its deadly products, namely, to produce its own biased studies. The tobacco companies know full well that such studies suffer from a major handicap: their patent lack of credibility, which considerably reduces their usefulness in a legal dispute.

They therefore have an imperative need for scientific results demonstrating that plain packaging is ineffective and therefore not a justifiable smoking prevention measure. These results must be presented as coming "independently" from a prestigious scientific institution. Mission impossible, you may say? Well, they have found one that, unexpectedly, is even showing rare complacency by submitting entirely to their wishes - and for very little money: the University of Zurich!

Pascal Diethelm
OxySuisse President
Pascal Diethelm - OxySuisse President
Briefing paper

Briefing paper

How the University of Zurich sacrificed academic freedom for the benefit of a tobacco company

A recent disclosure finally makes it possible to understand the explosive ties between Philip Morris International (PMI) and the University of Zurich (UZH). Let us recall the international context of tensions for the tobacco industry that arose some 10 years ago. In 2011, Australia decided to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. Immediately afterwards, the multinational tobacco companies launched an extensive campaign to oppose this measure. They initiated a series of litigations against Australia and other countries planning to introduce plain packaging (in particular the United Kingdom). In order to win these lawsuits and prevent plain packaging from spreading to other countries through «contagion», the tobacco industry set out to «prove» that this measure was not effective and would not reduce tobacco consumption. 

In the midst of this highly sensitive context, the University of Zurich agreed to sign a contract with Philip Morris for a research project on the impact of plain packaging on the prevalence of smoking in Australia.

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