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Unpacking commercial sector opposition to European smoke-free policy: lack of unity, ‘fear of association’ and harm reduction debates
  1. Heide Weishaar1,
  2. Amanda Amos2,
  3. Jeff Collin3
  1. 1MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2Centre for Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  3. 3Global Public Health Unit, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Heide Weishaar, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, 200 Renfield Street, Glasgow G2 3QB, UK; Heide.Weishaar{at}


Objective Tobacco companies have made extensive efforts to build alliances against comprehensive smoke-free legislation. This article analyses the interaction between actors who opposed the development of the European Council Recommendation on smoke-free environments.

Methods Drawing on data from 200 policy documents and 32 semistructured interviews and using qualitative textual analysis and organisational network analysis, opponents’ positions on, and responses to, the policy initiative, strategies to oppose the policy, and efforts to build alliances were investigated.

Results The non-binding nature of the policy, scientific evidence and clear political will to adopt EU-wide measures combined to limit the intensity of commercial sector opposition to the comprehensive EU smoke-free policy. Most tobacco companies, led by the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers (CECCM), voiced reservations against the proposal, criticised the policy process and fought flanking measures on product regulation. However, some companies focused on instigating harm reduction debates. These divergent approaches and the reluctance of other commercial actors to demonstrate solidarity with the tobacco sector prevented the establishment of a cohesive commercial sector alliance.

Conclusions The comparatively limited opposition to EU smoke-free policy contrasts with previous accounts of tobacco industry resistance to tobacco control. While context-specific factors can partially explain these differences, the paper indicates that the sector's diminished credibility and lack of unity hampered political engagement and alliance building. Industry efforts to emphasise the benefits of smokeless tobacco during smoke-free policy debates highlight the potential of harm reduction as a gateway for tobacco companies to re-enter the political arena.

  • Tobacco industry
  • Public policy
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Harm Reduction
  • Advocacy

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