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Firm seeks data on teenage smokers

A British university is battling a tobacco giant's attempt to gain access to its research into young people's smoking habits.

Philip Morris International (PMI), which makes Marlboro cigarettes, has submitted Freedom of Information (FoI) requests asking for the data from the University of Stirling.

The research, involving thousands of teenagers, examines why they start smoking and what they think of marketing by tobacco companies.

Academics said that handing over the information would be a major breach of confidence and could jeopardise future research.

Professor Gerard Hastings, of the university's Centre for Tobacco Control Research, said: "It is deeply concerning they are even trying to get this data. We are talking about children and this is data the tobacco companies themselves would never be allowed to collect."

He said it would be "catastrophic" if the centre lost its fight and was forced to hand over the data: "Most fundamentally this information was given to us by young people in complete confidence. We assured them we would treat it with absolute confidence and that it would be restricted to the research.

"There is no way that Philip Morris qualifies in that definition. It has enormous implications for academic freedom."

A PMI spokeswoman said: "PMI made a Freedom of Information request to understand more about a research project conducted by the University of Stirling regarding plain packaging for cigarettes.

"With regards to this FOI request, the Scottish Information Commissioner confirmed in his decision of June 30, that we had a legitimate interest in seeking the information and asked the university to respond to the request.

"We are not seeking any private or confidential information on any individuals involved with the research. As provided by the freedom of Information Act, confidential and private information concerning individuals should not be disclosed."

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