A tobacco company CEO appointed to the board of trustees of a reputable cancer institute? It's perhaps as outlandish as Time, Inc. being given an award for advancing tobacco control.
The Boston Globe recently announced that Bennett LeBow, chairman and chief executive of Vector Group Ltd. (the country's fifth-largest cigarette maker), resigned from the board of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School and has long been in the forefront of cancer care, research, and education). LeBow had been quietly appointed to the board this past January. After questions were raised about his appointment, he resigned, according to a Dana-Farber statement in the Globe, because of him "not wishing to be a distraction to [their] work." LeBow's initial appointment to Dana-Farber's board raises many questions, most importantly, why Dana-Farber chose to appoint him as a trustee. Did they think that the gifts LeBow would bestow upon them would be worth selling out their principles, worth being governed by and granting prestige to purveyors of cancer?
Aside from that most obvious question, I wondered why and how, in good conscience, a man with an almost two-decade-long career in the industry that manufactures and promotes a product that is the leading cause of cancer would join the board of an institute whose "ultimate goal is the eradication of cancer." Obviously, LeBow would certainly stand to benefit from the positive publicity and the appearance that he is devoted to advancing cancer prevention and treatment. How could he take these two positions without feeling extreme cognitive dissonance? In his mind, though, there may be little conflict: as recently as last month, LeBow would not even admit that a direct causal link between smoking and lung cancer had been proven, reneging on his testimony of recent years, in which he admitted the links between smoking and disease.
On the other hand, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is undoubtedly well aware of the strong link between smoking and a wide variety of cancers. Thus, it is very surprising that it would agree to appoint as a trustee somebody whose work and goals are completely antithetical to their own.
Rivka Weiser is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health.