Objectives: The goal of this study was to describe how the tobacco industry collects information about public health groups.
Methods: Publicly available internal tobacco industry documents were reviewed and analyzed using a chronological case study approach.
Results: The industry engaged in aggressive intelligence gathering, used intermediaries to obtain materials under false pretenses, sent public relations spies to the organizations' meetings, and covertly taped strategy sessions. Other industry strategies included publicly minimizing the effects of boycotts, painting health advocates as "extreme," identifying and exploiting disagreements, and planning to "redirect the funding" of tobacco control organizations to other purposes.
Conclusions: Public health advocates often make light of tobacco industry observers, but industry surveillance may be real, intense, and covert and may obstruct public health initiatives.