Tobacco industry attempts to recruit former anti-communist dissidents in Poland and Czechoslovakia
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London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom
Health Promotion Foundation, Poland
Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California San Francisco, USA
Publication date: 2018-06-13
Tob. Prev. Cessation 2018;4(Supplement):A177
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 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 several 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 became 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 progressive tobacco control legislation. In Poland, where the political arena was more unstable, and health advocacy groups actively engaged in lobbying efforts, it failed to achieve this goal. Poland’s tobacco control successes in the 1990s can provide a reference point for countries currently undergoing market liberalisation.

The study constitutes part of Mateusz Zatonski's PhD research, which is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.