A UNIVERSITY is battling a tobacco giant's attempt to gain access to its research into young people's smoking habits.
Philip Morris International, which makes Marlboro cigarettes, has submitted Freedom of Information requests asking for the data from the University of Stirling in Scotland.
The research, involving thousands of teenagers, examines why they start smoking and what they think of marketing by tobacco companies.
Academics said that handing over the information would be a major breach of confidence and could jeopardise future research.
Professor Gerard Hastings, of the university's Centre for Tobacco Control Research, said: "It is deeply concerning they are even trying to get this data.
"We are talking about children and this is data the tobacco companies themselves would never be allowed to collect."
He said it would be "catastrophic" if the centre was forced to hand over the data.
He said: "Most fundamentally this information was given to us by young people in complete confidence. We assured them we would treat it with absolute confidence and that it would be restricted to the research."
The centre was established in 1999 by Cancer Research UK and aims to discover why children start smoking.
Over the past decade the study has involved up to 6,000 teenagers and young people aged 13-24.
The centre is currently preparing a response to the request which it will pass to the Information Commissioner.
A PMI spokeswoman said: "Such government-funded research conducted by public institutions is covered by the Freedom of Information Act, in accordance with which members of the public can request information held by public authorities.
"We are not seeking any private or confidential information on any individuals involved with the research."