Meharry Medical College has just announced a massive study on vaping, tobacco, and other products containing nicotine. The study’s research funds are not insignificant: $7.5 million, and the financier is one of the biggest e-cigarette manufacturers in the world, Juul Labs Inc.
The medical school in Nashville is known for mainly teaching the black community, a population that is particularly affected by tobacco-related health issues. For Dr. James Hildreth, the establishment’s director, Juul Labs Inc.’s funding is a unique opportunity to determine environmental factors as well as the health effects of cigarettes and nicotine substitutes.
Those responsible for the study are perfectly aware of the conflict of interest represented by Juul Labs’ subsidies. But, according to them, the firm has granted them total independence. Consequently, research teams financed by Juul may end up publishing a study without the San Francisco-based company’s approval.
A study with questionable financing
In January 2019, a study was undertaken to understand the impact of subsidies given by e-cigarette manufacturers on vaping research. An analysis of 94 publications showed that laboratories financed by electronic cigarette companies tend to measure much lower levels of toxicity than independent studies. This study was carried out by the Tobacco Control Center of California.
What’s more, the internal regulations at Meharry Medical College specifical prohibit donations from tobacco companies, and Altria (formerly Philip Morris) has just invested $12.8 billion in Juul and will soon have a seat on the board of directors. According to Dr. James Hildreth, however, Juul is not a tobacco company, but rather a distributer of nicotine, and the discussions between the school and Juul began before Altria arrived.