Calling Philip Morris? VCU Courted Tobacco Money 

Virginia Commonwealth University officials have repeatedly denied the existence of a proposal to create a women's health center funded by Philip Morris USA, but a draft copy of the proposal shows the idea did - and in some iteration still does - exist.
A copy of a working paper titled "Proposal to Create the VCU Center for Health Pregnancy and Neonatal Outcomes,?VbCrLf obtained by Style Weekly, shows plans for a center focused on treatment and research into preventing defects, early birth and mortality.
The proposal touches on a smoking cessation program to prevent "chronic disease resulting from smoking-related pregnancy complications.?VbCrLf
Amid the controversy swirling around the university's relationship with Philip Morris USA, which has cooperated in and paid for tobacco-related research on campus, the health-center proposal offers an unusual twist. In part, the memo obtained by Style reveals a plan for how VCU could solicit money from Philip Morris.
The seven-page proposal includes various attachments and is detailed down to budget projections for such specifics as bus and cab fare for participants. It concludes with a subheading titled "Why Philip Morris USA should support this initiative.?VbCrLf The rationale for the pitch? "Philip Morris USA will be investing in the future of the Richmond community,?VbCrLf and "giving new meaning to ?~being well-born'.?VbCrLf


Pam Lepley, a university spokeswoman, says she was unaware of the proposal until contacted about it last week. During a July 16 community forum held on the medical campus, Dr. Francis L. Macrina, the school's vice president for research, repeatedly denied knowledge of the proposal, saying that no proposal has ever existed.
Lepley now says the proposal is a working paper developed by the dean of the medical school, Jerry Strauss, but adds that it was not specifically aimed at attracting the financial support of Philip Morris.


"This is a draft proposal that Jerry Strauss was working on for any number of potential philanthropic providers,?VbCrLf Lepley says, calling it a working proposal that remains internal to the school. "This is an initiative of Jerry Strauss'.?VbCrLf


The Richmond-based tobacco company is the only private corporation mentioned in the proposal and the only entity mentioned that is not the university or one of various governmental service providers foreseen as partners.


The assertion that the proposal has yet to see the light may not be worth a pack of smokes, either.


"This was a proposal that the dean of medicine shopped with Philip Morris,?VbCrLf says a medical school faculty member, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Since all this has broken, [Strauss] has said [in meetings] that Philip Morris did not accept it or they did not fund it.?VbCrLf


David DeBiasi, director of advocacy with the American Lung Association of Virginia, is also aware of the proposal. He says he was "pretty concerned?VbCrLf by Macrina's denial of the proposal's existence. He says he has copies of two versions of the proposal and is aware of a third, more recent, version.


Whether that version mentions Philip Morris is unknown. Various medical school sources familiar with the proposal say Strauss has since "backpeddled?VbCrLf on some components - specifically its planned reliance on Philip Morris for funding.

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