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Studying the Hungarian anti-smoking movement
  1. T Szilagyi
  1. School of Public health, Building A27, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; tibors{at}

    Statistics from

    Carter describes how tobacco companies infiltrate into tobacco control movements in order to damage their efforts.1 Industry documents on Hungary suggest similar intentions. The transnational tobacco corporations (TTCs) jumped into the new market and privatised the factories of the formerly state owned Hungarian tobacco monopoly in the very first years of the transition from communism (1991-92).2 Using their sophisticated lobbying practices, the TTCs succeeded in transforming the regulatory framework of tobacco and easing marketing and trade restrictions on their products. As Philip Morris put it, they sought to protect “the legitimate interests of the company . . .against discriminatory or unfair legislation and practices”.3

    The Hungarian anti-smoking movement was relatively inexperienced in neutralising the political and economical power of a wealthy and influential industry. Nonetheless, documents show the TTCs intended to monitor closely and counteract its efforts.

    In February 1993, Gabor Garamszegi, CA Manager of Philip Morris Hungary, received a research plan aimed at assessing “the social context of smoking in Hungary”. The submission4 came from the formerly state owned Tobacco Institute (Dohánykutató és Minõségfejlesztõ Intézet Kutató-Fejlesztõ Rt.), which had no previous experience in assessing the social and health issues in tobacco use. The plan states that “tobacco and smokers have become ostracized among the health-maniac snobs” and its authors considered smoking nothing more than “a scapegoat for the deteriorating health condition of the population”.

    The authors acknowledged that the tobacco control “snobs” had succeeded in putting tobacco control higher on the political agenda and gained power from the increasing involvement of its members into the international tobacco control efforts. This “challenge requires appropriate reactions from the tobacco industry”, with the document proposing that a panel of smoking volunteers be formed who could be “regularly questioned to learn the public opinion on social issues”. Members of these panels should be sent to collect information with the aim of learning more about the programmes of anti-tobacco organisations: “As a possible method it could be envisaged that members of the panels . . .also take part in these programs and pass on their experiences to the leaders of the panels.”

    Another document also mentions the “tight monitoring of activities and plans of government and anti-smoking groups” as an important strategy to “maintain the social acceptability of smoking”, since the “growing anti-smoking sentiments . . .would damage ability of the company in all business area to represent and defend company interests”.5

    More recently, British American Tobacco has engaged in launching a “social dialogue” with tobacco control advocates and government based agencies. This is another effort of TTCs to portray themselves as if they are changed, contrite, and reformed.6

    Hungary today faces an increasing epidemic of smoking related diseases, with 28 000 deaths (3.5 million people of 10 million population are smokers) attributable to smoking every year. The country ranks first in the world regarding mortality from lung and oral cancers.7


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