Researchers, departments and universities will be named and shamed if they accept money from the tobacco industry under a tough protocol announced this week by Cancer Research UK.
The UK's leading cancer charity, which invests about £100 million in universities each year, told The Times Higher that it would reserve the right to publicly denounce universities and staff in receipt of research cash from tobacco firms even if it decided to fund research on cancer at the same institution.
Jean King, the charity's director of tobacco control, said there had been some confusion under the previous protocol.
Because the former protocol was less explicit regarding the charity's right to reserve criticism, some universities were surprised and annoyed when, having received Cancer Research UK funding for cancer work, the charity turned round and publicly attacked them for also accepting research money from tobacco companies.
Ms King said: "We are trying to get universities to see that this is an unacceptable source of funding. The protocol makes that explicit."
Under the good-practice protocol, signed with vice-chancellors' body Universities UK, research teams that apply for Cancer Research UK funding will automatically be refused if they have direct links with the tobacco industry.
Applications from researchers will be considered if others in their university receive tobacco company cash. But they must convince the charity that they do not benefit from links with the department that accepts tobacco money, for example by sharing funding or equipment.
Each case will be judged on its merits.
Ms King said that where it receives two applications of identical academic merit, then the issue of whether the university is in receipt of any tobacco industry money could prove a deciding factor.
The charity acknowledged that cash-strapped universities could find it hard to refuse multinational companies offering big money. But it said that institutions should consider very carefully "colluding" in the promotion of a "global tobacco epidemic".