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The Daily Tar Heel

N.C. State Obeys Tobacco Subpoena

But other universities nationwide are continuing to refuse similar requests.

Big tobacco companies, including Philip Morris Companies Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., requested the information as part of their defense in a federal lawsuit against the industry.

The lawsuit, which seeks to recover federal health care costs associated with tobacco use, alleges that tobacco companies knew about the potential dangers of their products but withheld the information from the government and the public.

The New York Times reported Sunday that although subpoenas also were issued to Harvard University, the University of Arizona, the University of Kentucky, Johns Hopkins University, New York University and four campuses of the University of California system, only N.C. State has allowed documents to be inspected.

Debbie Griffith, N.C. State associate vice chancellor of public affairs, said the university was not informed of the reasons behind the subpoena but has complied with the request.

Griffith said the tobacco industry originally requested only a few studies from N.C. State.

"Then they came back with a broader request," she said. "(They) wanted all studies."

Most of the subpoenaed documents already were public record, Griffith said. "There wasn't any real threat to academic freedom or ongoing research," she said.

Philip Morris spokesman John Sorrells declined Tuesday to specify what the tobacco companies hope to gain in searching university research records, but he called the requests "narrowly tailored."

But Christopher Patti, a lawyer for the UC system, said tobacco company officials hope the documents will indicate that the government knew about the health risks stemming from tobacco use.

Patti also said it is "quite possible" that UC will hand over some documents -- if the tobacco companies narrow their requests.

"In that case, we'll give them the stuff they want," he said.

Patti said the tobacco companies originally requested all documents related to federally funded tobacco research since 1950, including confidential materials such as individual patient records and unpublished results of ongoing studies.

"As originally drafted, the subpoenas were absurdly broad," he said.

Although the tobacco companies have a legal right to request the information, Patti said, they had no "right to be burdensome."

Instead of demanding that universities provide research documents, the companies should "simply search the literature," he added.

If the universities and the tobacco companies cannot come to an agreement on the issue, Patti said, the tobacco industry likely will take the matter to court.

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