The Internationalisation of Tobacco Control, 1950-2010

David Reubi and Virginia Berridge, 2016, Medical History, 60, 4, 453-472.

This article explores the internationalisation of tobacco control as a case study in the history of international health regulation. Contrary to the existing literature on the topic, it argues that the history of international anti-smoking efforts is longer and richer than the making of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the early twenty-first century. It thereby echoes the point made by other scholars about the importance of history when making sense of contemporary global health. Specifically, the article shows how the internationalisation of tobacco control started in the 1950s through informal contacts between scientists working on cancer and how these initial interactions were followed by a growing number of more formal initiatives, from the World Conferences on Tobacco or Health to the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. Rather than arranging these efforts in a linear narrative of progress culminating with the FCTC, we take anthropological claims about global health’s uneven terrain seriously and portray a history of international tobacco control marked by ruptures and discontinuities. Specifically, we identify three successive periods, with each of them characterised by specific understandings of international action, tobacco control expertise, advocacy networks and funding strategies.