Tobacco industry funding delayed data on heart study

Janine K. Cataldo, PhD, RN

Early tobacco industry funding of the Framingham Heart Study delayed findings that eventually identified smoking as a major risk factor for heart disease, according to a UCSF analysis.

Research for the historical case study was based on the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, which houses more than 50 million internal tobacco industry documents released publicly as a result of the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies. Findings will appear in the August edition of the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology and are available online at the link below.

The Framingham Heart Study, a prospective cohort study of more than 5,000 men and women, provided findings about the causes of coronary heart disease (CHD). Before 1970, Framingham had been funded by the National Heart Institute (now known as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) and the American Medical Association (AMA), according to the researchers.  In 1970, the AMA decided to discontinue funding, and a National Heart Institute committee recommended discontinuing Framingham’s clinical examinations, the study team states.

The UCSF analysis shows that after U.S. government funding ended, the tobacco industry-funded Council for Tobacco Research provided continued financial support to the study in order to gain control of the data, analysis, and dissemination of the results, to suggest that tobacco-related illness and deaths primarily resulted from ‘‘constitutional’’ factors, such as age or ethnicity.

“The tobacco industry’s critical analyses in major medical journals and the media of published work by the Framingham team created confusion for several years about the association between CHD and smoking,” said Janine K. Cataldo, PhD, RN, assistant professor in the UCSF School of Nursing and lead author of the study. “This is one more case demonstrating the risk to public health arising from research funded by the tobacco industry.”

Cataldo warned that researchers accepting tobacco industry funding risk losing control of data, analysis, and publication.

Co-authors are Lisa A. Bero, PhD, a professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy, UCSF School of Pharmacy and Ruth Malone, RN, PhD, a professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF School of Nursing. Both Bero and Malone also are affiliated with the UCSF Institute for Health Policy Studies.

Link to paper: