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California and the West

Keeping Tobacco's Secrets in Full View

Web site: A permanent archive of cigarette company documents, including memos that acknowledged the dangers of smoking, will be established.

February 04, 2001|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — For years, UC San Francisco professor Stanton Glantz has been among the nation's staunchest critics of big tobacco, leaving no leaf unturned in his effort to expose the industry's secrets.

The 54-year-old scientist has published confidential tobacco documents on the Internet. He has battled the industry in court while pro-smoking forces urged Congress to cut off his federal research money.

Last week, Glantz learned his efforts will be memorialized, with the help of a $15-million grant from the American Legacy Foundation. The gift will be used to create a permanent Internet archive of 40 million pages of tobacco documents and develop a center at UC San Francisco for scholarly study of the materials.

The new online site will ensure that memos obtained before the landmark 1998 settlement between the tobacco industry and attorneys general from 46 states will be available long after the 10-year public viewing limit negotiated by cigarette makers.

The foundation, to be funded with $1.5 billion over the next 10 years as part of the $206-billion settlement, will allow Glantz to continue his research into the health links between cigarettes and cancer.

"This archive is going to cause a huge amount of trouble for the tobacco industry," said Glantz, who will head the new tobacco research center. "And I take great pleasure knowing that the more grief we can cause the cigarette companies, the fewer people they'll kill."

The tobacco industry downplayed the effects of the Web site. "The information's going to be out there anyway, even without their site," said Mark Smith, a spokesman for the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. "Once it's available it's available--to say otherwise is nonsense."

Long considered a national leader in research examining tobacco industry practices, UC San Francisco was a logical choice for the grant, Legacy officials say.

In 1994, Glantz and his UC San Francisco colleagues posted 4,000 pages of confidential Brown & Williamson documents on the Internet. The leaked internal memos showed what the industry knew of the dangers and addictiveness of cigarettes.

After the California Supreme Court struck down Brown & Williamson's lawsuit seeking the return of its memos, Glantz co-published a summary of the papers in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

"Faced with protracted litigation to make the industry memos available, UC San Francisco showed bravery in the face of extreme threat," said Legacy President Cheryl Healton. "They don't scare easily, even dealing with the Jolly Green Giant--our nickname for the tobacco industry. The green is their money, which is endless."

The university's vast new Internet archive would fill 2.5 miles of shelf space. The collection will become home to documents currently available on Internet sites maintained by the six leading tobacco companies.

Glantz and other researchers compare the industry sites with "having the fox guard the hen house."

"They actually had to work at making them as hard to use as they are," said Glantz, who said all queries to the university site will be anonymous.

The UC San Francisco site, www.library.ucsf.edu/tobacco/ will be available indefinitely to researchers, public health advocates and the general public--long after the tobacco industry removes its documents from the Internet in 2010.

UC San Francisco spokesman Wallace Ravven said it will take years to finish reviewing the files. "Who knows what other bombshells are inside these documents?" he said.

UC San Francisco is no stranger to bombshells.

One was the Federal Express package Glantz received in May 1994 that included 4,000 pages of secret tobacco industry materials. The leak came from a tobacco insider who identified himself only as Mr. Butts, named after the cigarette-shaped tobacco flack featured in Doonesbury.

For Glantz, the leak of crucial Brown & Williamson documents was an opportunity of a lifetime--but one that came at a cost.

The tobacco company sent investigators to scrutinize anyone who entered the special collections room at the university library where the papers were kept. Karen Butter, the university's assistant vice chancellor for library services, recalled the team of investigators who took notes on everyone who entered the glass-walled room.

"They talked loudly and chewed gum all the time--which didn't win them any points with the librarians," she said. "They were these really big guys and, boy, were they intimidating."

Glantz, a stocky talkative man who last week sat in one of the same chairs once used by the tobacco security guards, said university lawyers advised him to stay clear of the investigators.

"They didn't want me getting into any fistfights," he recalled. "Having these guys spying on who was looking at those documents was quite offensive. The university went to court rather than give out the names of people who had looked at the documents."

Butter, who will direct the new documents library, said public interest in the collection is growing. "In 1994 after we posted the Mr. Butts documents, we got 500,000 hits a year," she said. "Now we get that many in a single month."

With its new online archive, UC San Francisco is ready to receive the next mystery shipment.

Said Legacy's Healton: "If another person unloads a cache of dynamite material, we know this university will have the fortitude to make them available to the public."

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