Cancer Council Victoria says it had no idea a British American Tobacco (BAT) worker was behind a freedom of information request for data on the tobacco use and buying habits of thousands of school children. For the past 30 years, the council has surveyed children aged between 12-17 about their age, gender/location, access to money, alcohol/tobacco consumption, buying habits, and preferred brands. The director of the Victorian Cancer Council, Todd Harper, said a lawyer had requested the survey data under the Freedom of Information Act, but the request was rejected because it was not in the public interest to release it.
Not until Fairfax Media reported the lawyer had appealed against the decision to Victoria’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal, that the council became aware the lawyer was an employee of the tobacco giant, Harper said. “We had no idea that BAT was behind the request,” he said. “All we knew was it was an individual from a law firm who wanted the data. I’m disappointed that the tobacco company wasn’t upfront about its involvement.”
Harper said the council was concerned that, once made public, the data could be used by tobacco and alcohol companies to gain insight into the buying and drug consumption habits of young people, as well as the types of brands that appealed to them. The data is used by the Cancer Council to help it understand where and how to direct publishing health messaging, as well as for scientific studies. When parents consented to their children completing the survey, they did so believing the data would be used only in the interest of public health, Harper said.
Fairfax Media also revealed that the same lawyer used the Freedom of Information Act to gain information from surveys of adult smokers in that state which included questions about their attitudes toward smoking. “Cancer Institute NSW was compelled to provide tobacco survey data requested under the NSW Government Information [Public access] Act” its chief cancer officer, David Currow, told Fairfax. A spokeswoman for BAT told Guardian Australia the Victorian data request “wasn’t about children”. Read full article
Melissa Davey (21 August 2015) Cancer Council unaware tobacco giant behind FOI request… [online newspaper]. Retrieved from http://ow.ly/RbelF