Miami Dade College is utilizing funds from Philip Morris USA — a major tobacco company — despite having a college-wide smoking ban.
Philip Morris USA originally donated the funds—$45,000— in 1991 to MDC with the purpose of creating a permanent endowment. The College then received an additional $30,000 in matching funds from the State of Florida, according to College Provost Rolando Montoya.
The funds have been disbursed throughout several years to reward and recognize professors teaching courses in the areas of agriculture or natural sciences. The winners get a $22,500 stipend that is distributed during a three-year period.
“Why should they care if I smoke outside if they have this money?” said Armando Sevilla, a 27-year-old architecture major. “I don’t think it’s fair. If you’re against a product, then disassociate yourself with that product. Be consistent.”
Juán Morata, a Wolfson Campus natural sciences professor, was the first Philip Morris USA endowed teaching chair selected after MDC instituted its College-wide smoking ban in April 2011.
“I do believe students should be in a smoke free environment. However, an award is an award,” Morata said. “I didn’t put too much thought into it. When I applied for the chair, I didn’t look at Philip Morris, I looked at the natural sciences part of it.”
As part of the Endowed Teaching Chair program, every year a different company sponsors a different area of academia. This is the fifth year that Philip Morris USA sponsored the sciences.
“You have to think of it as charity, not a marketing technique,” Morata said. “I never thought of it as a morality issue.”
However, on June 22, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Tobacco Control Act, giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products.
Sect. 102 states that “product sponsorship of sporting or entertainment events” are banned. It also says that tobacco companies must limit color and design of packaging and advertisements, including audio-visual ads.
Free cigarettes and promotional products, including non-tobacco products linked to tobacco products are also banned.
Kirk O. Hanson, Executive Director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University says that a contribution like the one MDC received from Philip Morris USA aids in the marketing of the product.
“There’s no question that the motive of any company that gives to a university or college is good exposure and legitimation,” Hanson said. “I think its ironic. However, I think the greater danger is that the school be tainted by products such as Philip Morris that produce disease and death, considering their new smoking ban.”
According to Philip Morris USA’s website, their No.1 item in their Mission and Values is: “We will invest in excellent people, leading brands and external stakeholders important to our businesses’ success.”
“I do not have any comment beyond whats on our website,” said Bill Phelps, manager of media affairs for Philip Morris USA via email. “We do not have a comment on the College’s smoking restrictions policy either.”
Montoya feels the College is lucky to have the money.
“No, the College has never thought about returning the original donation,” Montoya said via email. “We are glad to have these funds available to provide salary supplements to outstanding faculty members.”
Six schools in Florida have completely or partially banned smoking on campus: Florida International University, The University of Miami, University of Florida, Edison State College, Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences in Orlando and Warner University in Lake Wales.
The Reporter attempted to contact the College Provost at all those universities, but were told that they were unavailable for comment on whether or not they’ve accepted monetary income from tobacco companies.
What is known is that MDC has not received additional donations from Philip Morris USA after the company’s original $45,000 donation.
Juan Mendieta, the College’s director of communications said MDC President Eduardo Padrón was unavailable for comment.
“What are we supposed to do, give it back? That’s ridiculous,” Mendieta said. “It is important to note that this organization has been a leader in education funding and causes. The endowment of this organization should not be diminished in any way.”