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The historical and economic involvement of Brazil with tobacco, as a major producer and exporter, was considered an insurmountable obstacle to controlling the consumption of this product. Nevertheless, the country was able to achieve significant progress in implementing public policies and to take an international leadership position, meeting its constitutional commitment to protect public health. In this paper we provide a brief historical overview of tobacco control (TC) in Brazil, and analyse the factors that contributed to the major decline in tobacco consumption in the country over the last 20 years, as well as identify the challenges that had to be overcome and those still at play.The Brazilian case demonstrates how cross-sectorial collaborations among health-related groups that capitalize on their respective strengths and capacities can help to influence public policy and overcome industry and population resistance to change. Although Brazil still lags behind some leading TC nations, the country has an extensive collaborative TC network that was built over time and continues to focus upon this issue.The tobacco experience can serve as an example for other fields, such as alcoholic beverages, of how networks can be formed to influence the legislative process and the development of public policies. Brazilian statistics show that problems related to non-communicable diseases are a pressing public health issue, and advocacy groups, policy-makers and government departments can benefit from tobacco control history to fashion their own strategies.