Anti-smoking beliefs should be protected in law, says academic suing university

Prof Jim McCambridge was found guilty by the university of harassing and bullying students
Prof Jim McCambridge was found guilty by the university of harassing and bullying students - Ian Martindale

A professor in addictive behaviours is suing the University of York to have his anti-tobacco views protected under equality laws.

Prof Jim McCambridge believes his stance on the dangers of “Big Tobacco” companies is a “philosophical belief”, which is protected under UK employment law.

The academic has taken the university to court over claims that his views caused bosses to treat him unfairly when he was investigated for bullying and harassment against three students.

An employment tribunal judge will rule whether Prof McCambridge’s view that tobacco companies shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with policy-making amounts to a “protected philosophical belief”.

University criticised over links to tobacco firms

Prof McCambridge, who is the chair of addictive behaviours and public health, also criticised the university over its association with Neil McKeganey, a former University of Glasgow professor and drug researcher whose company received funding from Philip Morris, the tobacco giant.

Details of his case emerged after the University of York unsuccessfully tried to have the professor’s case thrown out at the preliminary hearing in Leeds.

Prof McCambridge, defining his belief, said: “Public health needs to be protected from policy interference and associated interventions within science by the alcohol and tobacco industries, so that the integrity of science is preserved.”

Prof McCambridge is said to have emailed his bosses in 2016 and 2017 criticising its “relationship” with Mr McKeganey.

He claimed the impact of Mr McKeganey’s relationship with the University of York would “impact adversely on the health of some unidentified people in society”.

Separately, he claims that he was subjected to “serious procedural unfairness” in an investigation into his conduct following complaints by three students.

Bullying charges

He alleges the investigation, which concluded he committed bullying and harassment, was directly linked to his belief.

At the hearing, the university urged Ian Miller, the employment judge, to throw out the case, claiming that “no sensible reading” of Prof McCambridge’s claim could lead to it being a protected belief.

Judge Miller disagreed and said it must be tried at a full tribunal to determine whether it does in fact amount to a protected philosophical belief.

The judge said: “This is a very fact-specific issue and it would not be in the interests of justice for me to inhibit Prof McCambridge’s ability to produce evidence to show that this correspondence amounted to a protected disclosure.

“It is also, in my view, just about arguable that he might be able to show that he reasonably believed that the information set out in these documents demonstrated that the health of society at large, and consequently the people who make up that society, was being put at an increased risk from tobacco companies.”

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