South Korean health campaigners Friday criticised three university hospitals for accepting more than one million dollars from a US tobacco giant for research into smoking.
Philip Morris International is conducting the research simultaneously in South Korea and Japan, said Jang In-Jin, a pharmacology professor at Seoul National University Hospital who heads the project.
He said it also involves Catholic University Hospital and Chonnam National University Hospital in the southern city of Gwangju.
The three hospitals have recruited about 540 people for clinical tests, he said, adding they would receive a total of one billion won (1.08 million dollars) from the US company for the research.
Jang said the "basic research" aimed at identifying what harmful factors affect smokers compared to non-smokers.
An anti-smoking group urged the hospitals to withdraw from what it called "unethical" research.
"The World Health Organisation suggests hospitals should not receive research funds from tobacco companies," Kim II-Soon, head of the Korean Association of Smoking and Health, was quoted by local media as saying.
Kim's group says research funded by tobacco companies is banned in major universities in Western countries.
Jang said his research was endorsed by the university's institutional review board. Other hospitals have also secured approval from their own review boards.
"We decided to push ahead with the research after the board ruled it would not breach research ethics," he said.
He said thousands of people had already been involved in the research in Western countries.
"I don't think my research will be used by the tobacco company to boost sales. I believe anti-smoking groups are protesting my research because it is funded by a US company," he said.