Responses and potential solutions to intimidation in tobacco control: A qualitative exploration
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Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom
Britta K. Matthes   

Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom
Publication date: 2023-04-25
Tob. Prev. Cessation 2023;9(Supplement):A162
Tobacco control bears risks for those involved. Individual cases of attacks on governments, publicly funded programmes, and prominent advocates, researchers and whistleblowers are documented. Yet, not much attention has been paid to the prevalence and impact of intimidation in tobacco control more widely. Our previous interview- and survey-based study 1 established intimidation as a key challenge and identified the need to better understand responses and potential solutions.

Material and Methods:
We conducted a focus group and semi-structured interviews with tobacco control advocates and researchers. Data were analysed qualitatively.

Twenty-nine individuals from 22 countries participated in the study. Almost all of them reported that they or colleagues had been intimidated in the context of their tobacco control activity. Reported forms of intimidation ranged from attacks/humiliation on traditional and social media, complaints to employers, messages via social media, email, mail, phone or in person, including legal threats, to being “watched”. Responses included passive measures, most commonly, ignoring attacks, defensive measures such as abandoning or adapting a piece of work, and offensive ones, for example, exposing attacks or filing complaints. The type and level of support received from colleagues and employers as well as one’s own knowledge, skills and experiences were perceived as crucial in shaping the response. Several measures were suggested to enhance the current situation: Better prepare individuals through awareness raising and specific training (e.g., on cybersecurity and legal matters). Support those in need through a peer-support network and access to legal advice.

Intimidation is widespread in tobacco control and can hinder public health progress. This study suggests solutions to address intimidation that would require commitment from and collaboration amongst different actors including governments, international organisations, funders, media, and civil society.

There is no conflict of interest.
Matthes BK, Zatoński M, Alebshehy R, et al. ’To be honest, I’m really scared’: perceptions and experiences of intimidation in the LMIC-based tobacco control community. Tobacco Control, Published Online First: 19 July 2022. doi: 10.1136/tc-2022-057271.