Restrictions on tobacco company advertising and sponsorship are effective parts of tobacco control programmes worldwide. Through Council Directive 98/43/EC, the European Community (EC) sought to end all tobacco advertising and sponsorship in EC member states by 2006. Initially proposed in 1989, the directive was adopted in 1998, and was annulled by the European Court of Justice in 2000 following a protracted lobbying campaign against the directive by a number of interested organisations including European tobacco companies. A new advertising directive was proposed in May, 2001. We reviewed online collections of tobacco industry documents from US tobacco companies made public under the US Master Settlement Agreement of 1998. Documents reviewed dated from 1978 to 1994 and came from Philip Morris, R J Reynolds, and Brown and Williamson (British American Tobacco) collections. We also obtained approximately 15,000 pages of paper records related to British American Tobacco from its documents' depository in Guildford, UK. This information was supplemented with information in the published literature and consultations with European tobacco control experts. The tobacco industry lobbied against Directive 98/43/EC at the level of EC member state governments as well as on a pan-European level. The industry sought to prevent passage of the directive within the EC legislature, to substitute industry-authored proposals in place of the original directive, and if necessary to use litigation to prevent implementation of the directive after its passage. The tobacco industry sought to delay, and eventually defeat, the EC directive on tobacco advertising and sponsorship by seeking to enlist the aid of figures at the highest levels of European politics while at times attempting to conceal the industry's role. An understanding of these proposed strategies can help European health advocates to pass and implement effective future tobacco control legislation.