Tobacco industry attempts to undermine tobacco control by recruiting Czech and Polish anti-communist dissidents
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London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Public Health and Policy, United Kingdom
Health Promotion Foundation, Poland
University of California San Francisco, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, United States of America
Publication date: 2018-03-01
Tob. Induc. Dis. 2018;16(Suppl 1):A669
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After the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 state-owned tobacco industry was taken over by transnational tobacco companies (TTCs). TTCs engaged in aggressive lobbying against tobacco control efforts, and targeted key politicians. In Poland and Czechoslovakia (from 1993 Czech Republic) former anti-communist dissidents often held high government office, but also enjoyed considerable prestige abroad. The objective of this study is to identify and explain the TTCs' strategy to undermine tobacco control measures through the recruitment of former anti-communist dissidents, and how they influenced tobacco control policy development in the Czech Republic and Poland in the 1990s.

An analysis of relevant documents available in the Truth Tobacco Documents Library was conducted. This was supplemented by an analysis of press coverage, industry and public health journals, as well as key informant interviews with representatives from the tobacco industry, government officials, and Polish tobacco control advocates.

TTCs identified and targeted key anti-communist dissidents perceived as champions of liberty. These included Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic and Lech Walesa in Poland, both of whom were involved in promotional efforts of TTCs internationally in the early 1990s. In 1995, as presidents of their countries, they vetoed progressive tobacco control bills. In Poland, the veto was overturned thanks to the pressure of health advocacy groups, but in Czech Republic it was upheld.

The strategy of TTCs to target key individuals enjoyed varying degrees of success. In the Czech Republic, it was successful in delaying the introduction of tobacco control legislation. In Poland, where health advocacy groups were actively engaged in lobbying efforts, it failed to achieve this goal. Poland's tobacco control successes in the 1990s, and the effective engagement of its anti-tobacco advocates with both policymakers and the public, can provide a reference point for countries currently undergoing market liberalisation.

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