Developing more detailed taxonomies of tobacco industry political activity in low-income and middle-income countries: qualitative evidence from eight countries

Britta Katharina Matthes, Kathrin Lauber, Mateusz Zatonski, Lindsay Robertson, Anna Gilmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (SciVal)


Introduction Historical evidence, predominantly from high-income countries (HICs), shows that the tobacco industry uses a recurring set of arguments and techniques when opposing tobacco control policies. This data formed the basis of a model of tobacco industry political activity known as the policy dystopia model (PDM). The PDM has been widely used in tobacco control research and advocacy and has subsequently been shown relevant to other unhealthy commodities industries in both HICs and low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). Before it can be validated as a generic tool for researching corporate influence on policy, one needs to determine whether the PDM successfully captures contemporary corporate political activities in LMICs. Method We conducted semistructured interviews with 22 LMIC-based advocates and used the transcripts as the primary data source. The discursive and instrumental taxonomies constituting the PDM served as the starting point for the coding framework. Using thematic analysis, we combined deductive and inductive coding to ensure we captured all strategies from the PDM and the interviews. Results This study found that the tobacco industry uses a set of discursive and instrumental strategies that is largely consistent across LMICs and with the PDM. We identified several minor contextual nuances absent from the PDM. Some of these nuances were characteristic to individual countries, while others to LMICs more broadly. They included the argument that tobacco control policies unfairly punish reputable tobacco industry actors, and an emphasis on instrumental strategies centred around maintaining a good image, rather than rehabilitating a tarnished image as emphasised in the PDM. Conclusions Allowing for the nuances identified in this study, the PDM has been found to be fit for purpose. The revised model should now be tested through in-depth LMIC case studies and could be used to facilitate comparative studies of unhealthy commodity industries' political activities.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere004096
JournalBMJ Global Health
Issue number3
Early online date23 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2021


  • health policy
  • public health
  • qualitative study

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy


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