Smoking researcher Marewa Glover's organisation funded by tobacco giant Philip Morris

An organisation set up by smoking researcher Dr Marewa Glover, who told a select committee "bodies heal" from secondhand smoke, has received funding from a tobacco giant. 

Dr Glover, who this year was nominated for New Zealander of the Year, founded the Centre for Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty and Smoking in 2018. 

The organisation received $1.5 million from the US-based Foundation for a Smoke Free World one year, according to tax records obtained by RNZ, and that foundation's main source of income is Philip Morris.

The tobacco giant, officially known as Philip Morris International, allocated $1.5 billion to the foundation over 12 years, sparking conflict of interest concerns in 2017 from the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Dr Glover recognises that the Foundation for a Smoke Free World's primary donor is Philip Morris, but the way she sees it, her money comes from the foundation, not the tobacco industry. 

"The Foundation for a Smoke Free World and myself, I mean, I can attack their product all I want," Glover, who worked as Professor of Public Health at Massey University, told RNZ. 

"I'd rather not talk about them at all."

Concerns about where Dr Glover's funding came from were raised at the Health Select Committee on Wednesday by other submitters on a proposed law that would ban smoking in cars with kids. 

Dr Glover's submission itself raised eyebrows, after she said the effects of smoking have been "exaggerated deliberately to scare people off". 

She went on to say that what people "miss is that our bodies heal, so even if we are temporarily exposed, we heal from that". 

Prudence Stone, chief executive of the Public Health Association of New Zealand, appeared perplexed by what she had heard, telling MPs: "What a strange precedent that has been set this morning by the previous submitter."

Stone then began her submission - without being asked - by clarifying that her organisation receives "no backing or funding from the tobacco industry".

"I would advise you, from here on, to clarify with every submitter whether or not they are receiving tobacco industry funding for their hearing scripts today and for their submissions written towards this legislation."

Prudence Stone at the Health Select Committee.
Prudence Stone at the Health Select Committee. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Mike Kearghan, chief executive of the Cancer Society, also made it clear before his submission that his organisation "receives no funding, either directly or indirectly from any tobacco company or associates". 

Pointing to Stone's comments, he said: "I think that was a really important point that was made because that does compromise, I think, the legitimacy of [Dr Glover's] submission."  

Dr Glover has been a strong advocate for vaping - products Philip Morris and other tobacco companies are looking to as their traditional cigarette market struggles. 

There are fears Dr Glover has been compromised, with documents obtained by RNZ showing Otago University researchers have tried to stop her from working with district health boards (DHBs). 

A paper by Otago University this year said e-cigarettes "represent a potential threat to smokefree activities", because there isn't enough long-term research into it. 

Last week it was revealed more than 30 young people had recently been hospitalised around the US after experiencing severe respiratory problems due to vaping. 

In an opinion article in 2017, Dr Glover said vaping could "make us smokefree by 2025". 

Dr Glover argued at the select committee that the proposed ban on smoking in cars with children wouldn't do anything to help people quit smoking.

She also said the proposed ban could unfairly target Māori who have higher rates of smoking. 

"It is a good thing that people don't smoke in cars with kids, but banning it isn't going to stop the small number of people who still do that," she told The AM Show

"It is the opportunity cost is what I am concerned about. If they spend all the money on this... they are not going to spend that on interventions that will work."