Cancer Research UK Code of Practice on Tobacco Industry Funding to Universities

Our Code of Practice on Tobacco Industry Funding includes policies which researchers and universities in receipt of or applying for CRUK funding should be aware of.


Why is tobacco industry funding a special case?

Tobacco use is the single greatest cause of preventable illness and avoidable death in the UK, with 100,000 people dying each year from smoking-related diseases, including cancer. In the UK, smoking accounts for 86% of lung cancer cases alone.

Tobacco is a unique consumer product which has no safe level of use. Up to two in three long term smokers will die of a smoking related cause. Worldwide, tobacco use kills six million people a year, 600,000 of those deaths are non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

The tobacco industry has been aware of the serious health consequences of its product for decades, yet has sought to conceal the evidence from its customers. It has also continued to promote its products aggressively, especially to women, the young, the poor and to other new markets in low income countries.

The tobacco industry have funded research which is used as part of lobbying strategies to block, amend and delay effective public health policy including, most recently, standardised packaging. The guiding principles to Article 5.3 of The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recognise that "There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry's interests and public health policy interests".

Rationale for the Cancer Research UK Code of Practice on Tobacco Industry Funding to Universities

Why is Cancer Research UK so concerned?

Our vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. Smoking is by far the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the world. It is estimated that smoking causes nearly a fifth of all cancer cases and more than a quarter of all cancer deaths in the UK. Although rates of smoking in the UK are falling, just under 19% of adults smoke. Our ambition is to see a tobacco-free UK within a generation, where less than 5% of adults smoke. To help achieve this, we call for the strongest possible measures to restrict tobacco companies marketing their deadly products, and the protection of public health policy from their influence.

In respect of its relationship with universities, we believe there are two main areas where a university's links with the tobacco industry may impact on its relationship with the charity, as set out in sections 3 and 4 below.

We firmly support the principles set out in the Joint Protocol of Cancer Research UK and Universities UK. The Joint Protocol sets out our code of practice and highlights the key principles for independent research and the ethical concerns of tobacco industry funding of research. We will ensure that the Joint Protocol of Cancer Research UK and Universities UK is consistent with this Code of Practice.

Circumstances in which Cancer Research UK may make public comment on tobacco industry funding to universities

While recognising that certain decisions rest with individual universities, we feel we have a right and duty to comment in certain situations.

All universities are asked to consider the great harm to public health caused by tobacco, and the damage to their reputation if they accept tobacco industry funds. If a university accepts donations from the tobacco industry, we consider we have a duty to publicly criticise such funding.

Furthermore, we applaud those universities which already have a policy not to accept such funds and encourage other universities to follow their lead.

We believe that no form of association with the tobacco industry is acceptable. Therefore, nothing in this Code shall be taken to imply that we support or approve the use of tobacco industry funding for research or any other activities.

Conditions Under Which Cancer Research UK Funding May Be Withheld (Revised 2014)

We have a legitimate right to protect our own research funding where there is likely to be close proximity of our funding to tobacco industry funds.

We will not provide financial support to those supported by tobacco industry funding. We will also not provide financial support where those who are, or would be, supported by our funds are working in such proximity to others supported by tobacco industry funding that there is any possibility or likelihood that facilities, equipment or other resources will be shared. The conditions of this Code, at a minimum, apply at research team level.

The application of this rule would apply to e-cigarette companies which are fully or partially owned by tobacco companies.

However, we will consider funding research teams in close proximity of those funded by an independent e-cigarette company, those in receipt of funding from independent e-cigarette companies and those working alongside independent e-cigarette companies, where independence for e-cigarette companies is understood as the absence of ownership, funding, or comparable engagement with a tobacco company. We reserve the right to place additional conditions on applicants to avoid our brand being directly associated with an individual e-cigarette company or individual e-cigarette brands. We will continue to examine the questions raised by e-cigarettes and by the rapidly changing structure of the e-cigarette industry, and we will therefore regularly review this approach.

Where we are considering major new funding, association of the university with the tobacco industry will be a key criterion.

Cancer Research UK will have the final decision in any dispute.

Definition of Tobacco Industry Funding (Revised 2018)

"Tobacco Company" means a company, entity or organisation (or groups or combinations of the same) whose business other than for an insignificant part (less than 10% of its revenue), is the development, production, promotion, marketing, or sale of tobacco in any country of the world, or is a subsidiary or a holding company or affiliate of the same.

E-cigarette companies which are fully or partially owned by the tobacco industry are also considered tobacco companies under this definition.

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World was launched in September 2017, with an announcement of US$800 million funding from Philip Morris International (PMI). Although its own communications identify it as an independent organisation, the Foundation’s sole source of funding to date comes from PMI. We therefore consider funding from the Foundation for a Smoke-free World to be Tobacco Industry Funding within the scope of this Code.


Policy endorsed by CRUK Scientific Executive Board in 2015 and the CRUK Executive Board in 2019

We will keep this policy under review. Full references are included in the printable version of the policy, below.