The actions of policymakers are critical to advancing tobacco control. To evaluate the feasibility of using anonymous in-depth interviews to ascertain policymakers' knowledge about, and attitudes to, the tobacco industry, we undertook a pilot study involving New Zealand policymakers.
Five politicians (from different political parties) and five senior officials, who were involved in tobacco control policy, were recruited for semi-structured, anonymous, face-to-face interviews.
Recruitment of appropriate senior policymakers was found to be possible. Interviewees were willing to answer questions fully and frankly about their knowledge and views of the tobacco industry.
The preliminary data from this pilot suggest that some New Zealand politicians appeared to see contact with the industry as similar to contact with other groups, whereas the officials indicated at least a different style of relationship. Only one politician knew if their party accepted funding from tobacco companies. All but one of the interviewees thought that promotion of tobacco to under-16 s still occurs, albeit indirectly. The interviewees' knowledge of the investment in tobacco industries by New Zealand government agencies was low or absent.
While most of those interviewed showed scepticism about tobacco company public relations efforts, this was absent in some cases. There was a wide understanding that the tobacco industry will use many tactics in the pursuit of profit, and to counteract government efforts to reduce the harm from smoking.
In-depth anonymous interviews appear to be feasible and can be productive for exploring sensitive tobacco-related policy issues with policymakers. The preliminary data from this group of New Zealand policymakers suggest important knowledge gaps, but also general distrust of this industry. From a tobacco control perspective, the results may suggest a greater focus by advocates on the funding of political parties by the tobacco industry, and on government agency investment in the tobacco industry.