Monday, November 14, 2005


Hail the Government of Malaysia for making attempts to reduce the number of smokers in the country! As the Vice Chancellor of University Sains Malaysia points out a mockery made by the government's system in allowing the tobacco companies organise the “international tobacco conference” in Kuala Lumpur (the VC didn’t think very much about Malaysian Airlines being the national carrier for the event) while other sectors in the government are trying hard to “negate” the effects of smoking (New Sunday Times, 2005), HUC’s head Dr. P tells his students, that research done in aid for an advertising company that is promoting the products of British Tobacco is a “great opportunity”. WTF!

Though he (Dr. P) sees that linking with a giant advertising company, by conducting their research as an “opportunity” for the University to expand its corporate links, it is disturbing to find out that students who were involved in this project were made to do research in less than ethical ways (some of these students include psychology seniors).

The aim of the research project was to carry out observational research and report, back to the advertising agency (by the recruited RA’s), the 'typical' patterns of conversation that people engage in. On the point of view of research ethics, the participants were NEVER given informed consent of this little “recording”. When this point was raised, the spokes person for the advertising company (the one that was doing the media work for BT, denied that ‘recording without permission’ was in any way unethical - Dr. P agreed! (Shame on you)

It gets better. Initially the students were not told that this work was supporting the advertising efforts of BT. It was very much later, that this fact was established. The irony of this incident was that the chief coordinator was a young research assistant who was fully attached to the centre for psychology. Dosent s/he know about research ethics? Do s/he really have to do every thing management tells him/her to do? Is ass kissing that important s/he chooses to violate accepted ethical strandeds of psychological research? Where is ERB when projects like this are undertaken? isent there a stranded of practice that Universities adhere to?

The research data is qualitative and allows for the particular advertising company to place the BT’s products right into Malaysia’s cultural arteries. The particular coordinator I referred to earlier, dismissed this concern by claiming that “qualitative research cant give you much information” (don’t BULLSHIT, you need to get back to your basics in marketing). The results, which is obvious to anyone in the right mind, would be an increase in BT’s market share in Malaysia! Specially among the youth (the research sampled a youth population). (for those of you who are not sure about product placement through qualitative research, think of Nike’s latest campaign in China)

Some moron just told me, that no matter how good the marketing campaigns are, the increase in Malaysian government cigarette tax, will eventually deter its use. Again, bull shit! Think Again, think Nike. Just cause the price is high, doesn’t mean you don’t buy the product. Product placing is a very powerful way of winning consumer share. Supporting research that helps tobacco corporations obtain that data, is like giving into a form of 'neo' colonialism. The independence that Malaysia obtained in 1957, would not mean anything, if you sell out valuble information.

While the VC of USM rightly points out the national divide on smoking policy (i.e. to smoke or not to smoke), I feel that the distinction in any educational institution, and specially in Universities, and more so especially in Universities that specialize in Psychology, should be one that does not support or encourage the use, promotion, sale, or help sustain tobacco companies. HUC, SHAME on you.

Writing this particular article made me think about the existing laws about cigarette use (or cigarette use) on campus. The last page of the little book of University rules (yes, there is such a book) says that smoking is strictly prohibited on campus. I feel that this 'last-page' attitude, has spilled over to HUC’s overall attitude towards smokers to one of tolerance and acceptance.

Apart from the encouraged research project in aid of British Tobacco's marketing interest in Malaysia, HUC is guilty of failure to enforce strict “NO SMOKING” zones within the campus. Students are seen smoking at the entrances, exits, and within the campus grounds. When I contacted a member of the staff, the response given to me was “what can we do, how do we stop them”. HELLO? The university has been ignoring calls be students who were concerned about cigarette smoke getting into the air-conditioning system. This is happening on the same building that houses the Centre for Psychology! Yay, for the future “achievers” of the nation!

I have this to request from the Management, staff, administration, big guns, gurus, and leaders of my University.

1. HALT any form of support given towards tobacco companies. Regardless of the loss of financial gain, have the guts to say NO and set an example for the students.

2. Apologise to the student body for cheaply indulging in research that endorses tobacco marketing.

3. Strictly enforce the NO-SMOKING regulations as that required by the government. It is our right as students to have a smoke free environment within the campus grounds. This is not just my opinion, but is government policy (correct me if I am wrong) under the Universities and colleges act.

4. Introduce severe penalties for those who violate campus "NO-SMOKING" regulations. This means taking a an active role, in stopping the practice of smoking within campus. No Smoking signs (that dont exist either) would not solve anything.

5. Actively take part in more ANTI-smoking campaigns and provide information of the negative consequences of smoking.

And finally two things:

to the VC of USM: I am not sure about the politics that you are involved in dear sir, but your comments on the existing policy towards tobacco et la, is encouraging!

To the coordinator(s) who thought you could bullshit me and get away, i have this to say: You were key in encouraging this research project among young undergraduates even though you knew what you were getting into . When BT’s market share increases (and it will), and some one close to you coughs his/her last breath, I hope you will remember the day you told me “qualitative research would not make a difference”


Anonymous said...

I have a few q's about the post:

Were there many junior psych students who were involved in this research? If so, (although I suppose this applies to Any psych student..), what do you think the implications are on the attitudes they'd form in their 'psych minds', in terms of what's ethical/acceptable research and what isn't?

Do psychologists take an 'oath' of some sort (as doctor's do...i think) whereby it states that they should cause no ethical.etc?


My questions above aside, I share similar sentiments about this issue. Tobacco companies anger me greatly, but it leaves more than a bitter taste, to think that institutions of education would support the influence of these corporations.

Am very curious about the opinions of others on this topic. Should psychologists support companies/ corporations that cause harm / bring no good to individuals and society at large?


Steph said...

This is so wrong!!! I don't deny that it is impossible to stop smoking entirely among the nation or in universities per say but to react so cool about it???? My, has these people lost their mind??

I thought people who have higher education, should be wiser and more rational in judging and making decisions..but hey, don't they think of the consequences of aiding the research for the tobacco company? Even if they're not concern about their own lives, are they not concern about lives of their children, of their beloved ones, of other innocent beings, of the future generations?

I strongly agree and support with what you've done/are still doing. If you have no power to do it alone, get people to sign a petition. Even if everything fails, at least let them know that there are people who, are aware of their unwise decisions and had made the effort to fight for it. Good luck!

Steph said...

I think the obvious answer to k's question will be a strong no. But we all know that psychologists are most probably the best people who have the 'ability' (or applied-knowledge?)to influence the society at large...well, apparently...

But this whole ethical thing in supporting companies/corporations that cause harm, to my opinion, is everyone's responsibility, although psychologsits should be one of the major people who make changes in a good course to the society, not the otherwise.

I feel far beyond being dissapointed and bitter with the attitudes of others (those involved in the marketing research)... I can't believe that the psychology division agreed to this tobacco thingy. As a psyc student, I feel helpless knowing that my 'own people' agreed to do something that cause more harm than good (or should I say, no good at all) to the society...

mythsn_legends said...

It is a shame to see someone from the top management in our college giving such comments (i.e, promoting the products of BT is a "great opportunity"). This shows that monetary profit of any sort is valued over the well being of HUC's students.

It's even MORE shameful to know that he agreed on the ethical violation of informed consent while conducting research! What's funny in a sick way is that HUC is home to the BEST psychology center in Malaysia and by golly, our "spokesperson" for HUC doesn't even know about basic ethical procedures when conducting research!

I think that both the management and the students need to actively enforce the "No Smoking on Campus grounds" rule. The Management can do their best to introduce all sorts of rules and punishments to discourage smoking within campus grounds but it would even be more effective if students know their roles in enforcing the rules. For example, if a person is caught smoking in a No Smoking zone, a student has the right to inform the person who is smoking that it is a NO SMOKING ZONE. However, one student is not sufficient. There needs to be a kind of culture where students play an active role in enforcing rules and regulations set by the university. With that, I am pretty sure that there will be no smokers loitering around places that do not permit smoking (I hope you get what I am saying) ;)

Just out of curiosity, was the research really carried approved and carried out by HUC? And if yes, what was the outcome of it?

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

I also get angry at Big Tobacco...and what *is* going on there at the University?


ephez said...

I think the thing about psychologists is that they(we?) are such a varied bunch. It is a field of study and not a specialized profession like medicine, so the thing is, even if clinical psychologists were to be bound by an oath of some sorts, it would still not apply to say, an industrial/research psychologist, whose job is to aid corporations, whichever one they decide to work for.
Like steph said, no.

And yea. I noticed that the "No Smoking" signs in HUC kind of acts like a "Smoking Area" sign. Ever noticed the amount of people smoking under the signs?

I agree with mythsn_legends, there needs to be a kind of university culture that is followed by students. Easier said than done though.