Karl-Erik Tallmo,
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Dagens Forskning [Today's Science] no 16, 26-27/8 2002

”Ragnar Rylander has willingly offered his services”

[På svenska]

In the last issue of Dagens Forskning [Today's Science] professor Rylander writes that my article about his receiving money from Philip Morris (PM) for his research is careless and erroneous. He also claims that the main source for my article has been "Prévention", the web site of Rielle and Diethelm, who were convicted for defamation.

No, the article is not based on those web pages, but on the documents that PM has been imposed in court to publish on the web, documents I have been studying for more than a year. I have thus been able to read i.a. several hundreds of Rylander's own letters and fax messages. Rylander also maintains that I have not read any original documents. Of course I have read, for instance, articles by him, the textbook in environmental medicine, the investigation from the University of Geneva, as well as the verdict. He is, however, right about one thing. It was a misunderstanding that he did not want the verdict to be published in the Swiss newspapers. He did want it to be published, but the court did not believe this was necessary.

Rylander says that neither the court nor the university in Geneva found that he had committed scientific fraud. This was exactly what I wrote. I added, however, that both the verdict and the university report still bring about criticism against his ties to the tobacco industry. Rylander now dismisses this criticism. And yet he found reason to reply to the criticism in a letter to the minister of education in Geneva.

In the last issue of Dagens Forskning, Ragnar Rylander wrote:

My collaboration with Philip Morris was begun in 1972 and included the subsidizing of well-defined research projects which I have drawn up myself, plus being a scientific advisor to INBIFO, an inhalation-toxicological laboratory in Cologne. Within the scope of this collaboration I have never signed any consultancy contract, which has given me the freedom I wanted, for instance, not to get mixed up in the product or policy issues of the tobacco industry. This is also evident from the documents quoted in the article - I received grants for the research, regardless of its direction. The collaboration has not been a secret - it is evident from various documents that it was well known and published already since 1974.

For the sake of clarity I will answer this point by point:

Well-defined research projects. In PM document no 2023223287/3290 it is stated: "he gets paid this amount regardless of what we ask him to do for us." PM has suggested projects - this is evident from, for instance, PM 2028381515, from 1994, where Ruth Dempsey thanks Rylander: "Thank you for being so cooperative and agreeing to consider our suggestions for a protocol for a Swedish 'confounders study'."

Scientific advisor to INBIFO. This is the second time Rylander tries to make his role at the PM owned research institute seem as merely an advisory capacity. "Our representative to INBIFO", is what he is called in PM 2063590979/0980.

He has not been mixed up in product or policy issues, he says. But in the just mentioned document it is stated that his contributions include discussing "scientific methods and product evaluation". And in PM 1000259869/9870 it says: "He would officially be carried on the books as a consultant [...] His duties, however, would involve supervising our projects at INBIFO and he would also assist in planning and organizing this work." Consequently, not just simply an advisor. Rylander also repeats once more that he never was a consultant, although the mentioned documents prove this. In, for instance, PM 2063590979/0980 it is said that "Dr. Ragnar Rylander signed a consultant agreement with Philip Morris in 1972 (attached)". In PM 2501367906 from July 1972 he suggests this form of collaboration himself: "It will thus be necessary for me to obtain consultantships and I was glad to know [...] that our present joint work can also be performed under the terms of a consultantship."

The collaboration has not been a secret, but well known already since 1974, Rylander writes. He is probably referring to the international workshops on passive smoking in 1974 and 1983, which were declared as financed by, respectively, Fabriques de Tabac Réunies (a PM company) and the industry association the Tobacco Institute. The fact that a large part of the daily research work in Geneva and Gothenburg was financed by the tobacco companies was hardly known, since the directions of the departments in both cities were surprised by this information when the secret PM documents were published. The prefect at the institute in Geneva, André Rougemont, stated during the trials of the defamation case: "If I as director [...] had known that professor Rylander was a consultant for Philip Morris, I would have demanded of him to choose between them and us." (Page 5 at www.prevention.ch/rya2.htm.)

The dean at the medical faculty in Gothenburg, Staffan Edén, wrote to me in June this year that "Gothenburg University had no knowledge of Rylander receiving consultancy remuneration (90,000 USD)." This is the 90,000 dollars a year, that Rylander received for consultancy, besides the 60,000 dollars a year he received as research grants from PM. Edén also says that "the university had no knowledge of Rylander having had assignments on the side since he had neglected to report those." Rylander realized already at an early stage that substantial parts of this collaboration must be kept secret. In the document from 1972 where he suggests a consultantship, he also writes: "Naturally all our joint work would be formally tied to a paragraph on secrecy [...]"

Rylander now says that my article gives the impression that his collaboration with PM has been part of a strategy drawn up by the lawyers of the tobacco industry in order to lessen the attention on the harmfulness of tobacco smoke. Unfortunately, this is a pretty good description of the understanding one gets by reading the documents. A remarkable number of lawyers from the tobacco industry's PR firms are hiding behind the scenes when Rylander is arranging workshops or writing reports. The conference on environmental tobacco smoke that Rylander organized in Geneva in 1983, was planned i.a. at meetings with Don Hoel from the law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon. In a progress report from 1981 Hoel writes:

"he [Rylander] did not feel that the workshop could or would be in a position to give environmental tobacco smoke a 'clean bill of health.' However, Dr. Rylander did believe that he could bring a healthy skepticism to the conference and some of the claims being made about environmental tobacco smoke. There are certain risks involved in any such undertaking but in view of all the circumstances he and I both felt that these 'risks' could be minimized."

Further on it is also said that Rylander and the law firm together will work on the discussion papers for the sessions. Rylander believed that CTR - a research council which was not known by many to be owned by the tobacco industry - would be the appropriate sponsor, since money coming from the Tobacco Institute would seem "tainted". Thus, taking money from the tobacco industry was not as uncontroversial at the time as Rylander now claims.

The printed report from the conference was also written together with the lawyers. In the concluding chapter it is said: "An overall evaluation based upon available scientific data leads to the conclusion that an increased risk for non-smokers from ETS exposure has not been established." Precisely this sentence was quoted in an advertisement which the Reynolds Tobacco Company ran in hundreds of newspapers all over the USA. There is no proof that passive smoking is harmful, and this in not just "wishful thinking of a tobacco company" but science, they claim in the ad, and then they quote Rylander's text - a text they have been taking part in writing.

Regarding Philip Morris and the research policy of the company it says in the article that the text I am referring to is not to be found. The text in the document in question reads: "Encouraging objective scientific research as the only way to resolve the question of health hazard," says Rylander now. This is the third time he tries to make it seem as if this document is about PM's ambition to promote objective science. I suggest that readers with an Internet connection themselves look up the document PM 2024274199/4202. One will get an entirely different picture if one only reads what is said before the sentence Rylander quotes:

"On the contrary, it [the industry's strategy] has always been a holding strategy, consisting of
- creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it.
- advocating the public's right to smoke, without actually urging them to take up the practice.
- encouraging objective scientific research as the only way to resolve the question of health hazard"

If one reads further it is also said that these suggestions are not "strictly scientific".

We have never said that this factor [the dietary factor] is more important than tobacco smoke, which is said in the article, only that it is important to control for dietary factors when studying the effects of tobacco smoke, Rylander writes. Well, what should one call a line of reasoning such as the one in his expert commentary to the EPA, where he says that the public health effort will fail if the advice to a mother with a child with repeated upper respiratory infections, would be to stop smoking instead of recommending that she feed the child a better diet? In a report from 1991 Rylander writes to PM about how the study on children and lung disease is developing: "The project looks very promising as the first data suggest that diet factors may be of equal or even larger importance for children's respiratory disease than ETS." One might ask why this is so promising, what would be of interest here to PM? During the 90's Rylander received 75,000 USD per year for this study ("Environmental risk factors for respiratory infections", Archives of Environmental Health no 5:2000) together with another study, but the financier is not declared in the article.

One should be aware of the fact that professor Rylander's activities, especially during the last 20 years, have been going on while the business fought for its life against official health organizations that maintained a more and more solid conviction that passive smoking is harmful - for instance the Surgeon general, the EPA and the WHO. In this battle, Ragnar Rylander has willingly offered his services to a party whose prime goal regarding scientific questions has been "creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it."

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