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College of Public Health gets $100K from ex-exec of tobacco company

The Ohio State College of Public Health recently accepted a $100,000 donation from a former executive of the second-largest tobacco company in the U.S.

Dr. Robert G. Fletcher, former medical director for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and his wife Karen made the donation in May.

Although the College of Public Health has a policy against accepting donations from tobacco companies, the Fletchers’ donation was acceptable because it was from private individuals, said Stanley Lemeshow, dean of the college.

“We would not accept a gift from a tobacco company in any way, shape or form,” Lemeshow said. “It’s clearly a gift from a private individual. We exclude in our policy private donations.”

The policy, which is on the College of Public Health website, lists sources from which the college can and cannot accept donations. Neither list mentions individuals who work or worked for tobacco companies.

The policy was adapted from the American Cancer Society’s policy, Lemeshow said.

The cancer society’s policy prohibits donations from the tobacco industry, said Robert Paschen, spokesman for the American Cancer Society.

“We don’t accept money from tobacco companies,” Paschen said. “I don’t think we’ve ever accepted money from tobacco companies.”

Paschen would not say if the cancer society would accept donations from former employees of tobacco companies.

The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University has a similar policy against accepting money from the tobacco industry, said Tim Parsons, spokesman for the school. Parsons would not comment about whether the school would accept gifts from former tobacco employees.

The College of Public Health’s tobacco funding policy is not university-wide.

“We honestly don’t think the university should take money from tobacco companies,” Lemeshow said. “The university accepts all kinds of gifts from all kinds of people.”

Fletcher earned his bachelor’s degree from OSU in 1957 and doctor of medicine from the OSU College of Medicine in 1963. A representative from the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based tobacco company said it was company policy not to disclose the contact information of former employees, and The Lantern was unable to locate Fletcher.

The College of Public Health does not know what it will use the money for, but Lemeshow said it “would be to advance the public health.”

The college refuses donations from tobacco companies because their products harm the public’s health, Lemeshow said.

“We believe the tobacco industry has damaged the lives of many individuals and has often hidden the impact of their product,” Lemeshow said. “It’s one product that when used as directed can kill people.”

Accepting donations from tobacco companies might make those companies look good, which Lemeshow said they do not deserve.

“The tobacco industry has a long history of doing things that paint them in a much better light than they deserve to be painted in,” Lemeshow said. “They try to give a gift to get people to think they’re doing something good, but on the other side of the coin, they’re not doing good.”

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