Damage to the p53 gene leads to uncontrolled cell division and mutations in p53 are found in over 50% of all human tumours, including 60% of lung cancers, according to the report.

Benzoapyrene, a potent carcinogen, was identified in cigarette smoke in 1952. In the 1990's, studies demonstrated patterned changes in p53 after exposure to benzoapyrene. A 1996 landmark study showed benzoapyrene's interaction with p53 mirrored mutations found in actual human lung tumours. This finding provided strong molecular evidence of the direct carcinogenic effect of a tobacco smoke constituent.

Stanton Glantz of the University of California and colleagues examined 43 previously confidential tobacco industry documents relating to p53 and tobacco smoke. The researchers found that prior to 1996, several tobacco companies supported research projects investigating the mechanisms of p53 mutations.

Following the 1996 landmark study, tobacco companies planned a number of research projects in response and supported studies which appeared to cast doubt on a link between p53 damage and benzoapyrene in tobacco smoke.

"The tobacco companies claim that they are now working with the public health community to ‘support a single, consistent public health message on the role played by cigarette smoking in the development of the disease in smokers.' But their multifaceted response to p53 research as recently as 2001, suggests that they have not changed their practices.,” comments Professor Glantz.

He also calls upon his colleagues "to be vigilant in demanding and maintaining rigorous standards for disclosing and evaluating potential conflicts of interest. Universities and other biomedical researchers should stop taking money from the tobacco industry in order to minimise the potential for any impairment of the integrity of the scientific process”.

MEDICA.de; Source: The Lancet