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