Victory for tobacco control campaigners sued for unearthing tobacco industry mole.



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Monday 15 December 2003

ASH news release: For immediate release: Monday 15 December 2003

Health campaigners worldwide are today celebrating the Swiss court’s dismissal of libel claims made against two tobacco control campaigners who had accused an academic of being in the pay of the tobacco industry. Researchers Pascal Diethelm and Dr Jean-Charles Rielle had accused Professor Ragnar Rylander of infiltrating the University of Geneva on behalf of Philip Morris and of being involved in scientific fraud. The Professor sued the researchers for libel. However, following a series of court cases, the criminal division of the Swiss Court of Justice of Geneva today acquitted M. Diethelm and Dr Rielle of the charge of libel and awarded costs against Professor Rylander. [1]

In March 2001, a Geneva-based non-governmental organisation, OxyGenève, issued a report on the activities of Prof. Rylander, alleging unprecedented scientific fraud and labelling him as one of the highest paid consultants to the tobacco industry. Rylander sued for libel, maintaining his innocence and admitting only to limited links with the tobacco industry. He conceded that he had obtained some money for “well-defined research projects”, while asserting complete professional independence and specifically denying any contractual relationship.

The documentation reviewed by the Swiss courts shows that these claims totally misrepresent the situation. Instead they reveal how he worked secretly for Philip Morris for almost three decades, receiving sums of up to US$150,000 per year. His secret contract with them was obtained during the proceedings; in 1972 he had written to Philip Morris that “Naturally all our joint work would be formally tied to a paragraph on secrecy…”

In ruling that the description of his work as “unprecedented scientific fraud” was justified, the Geneva Court has confirmed the lengths that the tobacco industry will go to in undermining the compelling evidence of the adverse health effects of passive smoking. Taken with earlier evidence [2] of how the industry has sought to corrupt the scientific process in relation to passive smoking, it emphasises the importance of looking very carefully at the other research that the industry has cited in its favour, asking whether this research really is as independent as it claims to be.

Deborah Arnott, Director of the health campaigning charity ASH, said:

Pascal Diethelm and Dr Rielle are to be congratulated for their courage in standing up to the might of the tobacco industry and for their dogged pursuit of truth. The Rylander Affair is just one of a shocking series of scandals involving Philip Morris’s attempts to fudge the science on secondhand smoke.”

Professor Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and editor of the European Journal of Public Health, said:

“This case demonstrates clearly how the tobacco companies cannot be trusted. It is yet another example of their underhand, deceptive practices. Thankfully, justice has been done and Philip Morris can no longer hide behind the pretence that Rylander was an impartial researcher.”   

Notes and links:

[1] Background information about the Rylander case can be viewed at www.prevention.ch/rylanderpm.htm (This includes press coverage (in French) and an editorial (in English) in the European Journal of Public Health. 2003; 13: 193-194. Also see: Ragnar Rylander has willingly offered his services

[2] Further information on Philip Morris’s campaign to recruit scientists to promote ‘controversy’ around passive smoking can be downloaded as a pdf here.

[3] The full text of the judgment can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Contact: Deborah Arnott 020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m) ISDN available

Professor Martin McKee   079 7383 2576 (m)