Leading German public health experts who played down the dangers of cigarettes – including one who argued that discrimination against smokers was like the Nazi persecution of the Jews – have been secretly financed for years by the tobacco industry, it has been alleged.
The claims were published yesterday by the weekly magazine Der Spiegel, which said four of the country’s top medical research scientists had received millions of Deutschmarks for publishing biased reports about smoking during the 1980s and early 1990s. They were named as Jürgen von Troschke, the head of medical sociology at Freiburg University; Johannes Siegrist, a top medical scientist at Düsseldorf’s Heinrich Heine University; the Augsburg University scientist Johannes Gostomzyk and the former head of the German Federal Health Office, Karl Überla. Der Spiegel said the four were funded for years by the German Association of Cigarette Manufacturers, mainly via innocuous-sounding medical foundations in an attempt by the industry to play down the dangers of smoking.
The evidence came to light in a report compiled by the German branch of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Martina Pötschke-Langer, the spokeswoman for the WHO’s Centre for Tobacco Control in Heidelberg told the magazine: “It is particularly reprehensible that, of all people, health experts should have allowed themselves to have been bought by the tobacco industry.”
Professor von Troschke was said to have received more than DM700,000 for publishing his research, which included a report entitled the “psycho-sociological uses of smoking” in which he dismissed claims that smoking was addictive.
Der Spiegel described him as an active opponent of discrimination against smokers who used a caricature of a smoker with a “sort of Jewish star” pinned on his breast to illustrate the “pogrom-mentality” of the anti-smoking lobby.
Dr. Siegrist was said to have been persuaded by the tobacco giant RJ Reynolds to conduct research into whether smoking increased the risk of heart disease, but only if it was linked to professional stress factors. He was reported to have been paid DM300,000.
Mr. Gostomzyk was, it said, a regular recipient of industry research funds. He published a report in the 1980s dismissing claims by experts about the dangers of passive smoking as “unscientific”.Karl Überla, the president of the German Federal Health Office during the 1980s, was alleged to have been persuaded by the tobacco industry to suspend judgement on a scientific report that argued for a ban on the inclusion of the toxic chemical Coumarin in cigarettes. Philip Morris and British American Tobacco made 36 million cigarettes containing the substance, Der Spiegel said.
His office was said to have requested and been awarded DM1.6m by the tobacco industry to finance research on passive smoking.
All four denied the magazine’s allegations. The German branch of the WHO said the close relationship between health experts and the tobacco industry had effectively blocked attempts to curb smoking in Germany for the past two decades.