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In Memoriam

Posted by C3W Admin on February 14 2022

It is with broken hearts that we share the news of Mateusz Zatoński’s recent death at the age of 34. Mateusz was a brilliant historian, wonderful and generous colleague, an energetic health activist, and a friend to several project members. It is incomprehensible that we will no longer exchange ideas, have long conversations about socialism and health over food and drink, and make exciting plans of collaboration. It was a privilege to know him, and his presence in our lives and profession will be irreplaceable.

Mateusz was a cornerstone in the new and emerging field of history of medicine in Eastern Europe, and contributed in very important ways to the history of tobacco and smoking. Drawing on his combined expertise in public health and history, his proficiency in six languages, and his wide-ranging collaborations across Europe and the United States, he explored the complexities of tobacco control and attitudes to smoking in state socialist and post-socialist Poland. In 2018 Mateusz won the prestigious Roy Porter Prize awarded by the Society for the History of Medicine for his essay titled ‘Lighting up under the “No Smoking” sign: tobacco control regulation in Communist Poland’.

Mateusz’s work has been influential for Connecting Three Worlds, and he was personally involved in initial conversations that have set our research agenda. The absence of his intellectual generosity, upbeat energy and astute questions will always be felt, and the legacy of his research will continue to shape our field for years.

– Dora Vargha (Humboldt University / University of Exeter)


Mateusz turned up at my office one day in 2013. I opened the door, and there he was, smiling, saying he’d like to have a chat about public health and history. Some people had suggested he talk to me. Do I have time for a meeting? And so began an intense couple of terms of working on his proposal for a PhD on tobacco control in post-war Poland. He was finishing his MSc at the LSHTM at the time, and was looking for doctoral funding. I helped him with some funding applications, and in the end he got an offer at his alma mater he was pleased to accept. We stayed in touch and he periodically contacted me about various projects he was involved with. He was a natural organiser and networker, a driven researcher and lively speaker. Over the next few years we chatted about his professional ambitions, his father, in whose footsteps he followed, his brothers, the International Baccalaureate (which we had both taken), his travel plans, Eastern European history, his views on health and social policy, his passion for tobacco control. He was extremely driven and focused, but also charming and fun. One of the last times I saw him was during his viva, as one of his PhD examiners. There was no doubt in our minds that he was set for taking the field, and world, by storm. I’m still shaken by the fact that he won’t be able to do that anymore. What a loss for everyone.

– Jessica Reinisch (Birkbeck, University of London)


My overwhelming memory of Mateusz is of generosity — as a scholar, as a colleague and as a public-facing intellectual. His research on Polish tobacco was not encased in glass and separated from the world but intimately engaged with fighting for people today. In this quest for bettering the world, it felt like he took others on as fellow warriors. He shared with me not just his own research at various levels, but introduced me to others – including his father – who were interested in similar issues. While he was taken far too soon, he managed to do more good and inject more generosity in the world than most manage in a lifetime.

– Tricia Starks (University of Arkansas)


Mateusz contacted me a number of years ago to invite me to be involved in a panel he was organising on histories of health under Communism in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s a small field, so finding other kindred spirits is always a joy, and Mateusz quickly became a great colleague and friend. He had many strings to his bow, and his work was informed by a deep commitment to area studies, history, public health and policy – and he wove these together in a way that was so compelling. He was also unafraid of controversy, pointing out the collusion of heroic figures of dissent and post-socialist politics, such as Lech Wałęsa and Václav Havel, with the tobacco industry. His work is a real exemplar of interdisciplinarity and intellectual integrity, and it will continue to be an inspiration. But even more than that his loss is felt on a personal level as someone whose enthusiasm was infectious, and who was wonderful to spend time with. Rest in peace Mateusz.

– Sarah Marks (Birkbeck, University of London)


I met Mateusz after being impressed by a paper he gave at a conference. A bright young scholar, Mateusz talked about socialist Eastern Europe and the history of medicine with fervor and fun. We went on to present panels together in Cambridge and Liverpool and plotted several more. We exchanged ideas, emails, and jokes. He was open and warm as a person and focused and engaged as a scholar: an excellent combination of characteristics, which made the world a better place. Mateusz will be deeply missed, both as a historian and a fellow traveler.

– Kateřina Lišková (Masaryk University, Brno)


At our first encounter at the European Association for the History of Medicine in Bucharest in 2017, the organizers took us on a small boat trip on a small lake in the middle of the city. Mateusz was probably too engrossed discussing and engaging with someone’s research in his friendly, funny, and profound way, to realise that he was late, and so I contacted him via Twitter: “We are on the boat. Beer and biscuits. Come!” To which he responded, “Stop the boat!”. Luckily, he made it just in time, and I didn’t have to persuade the captain to hold off any longer. But this little episode already is most telling about what a great guy Mateusz was.

We actually were virtually introduced by a friend of mine in April 2017, who met Mateusz at a conference – as usual. Since then, we have had regular contact. We quickly realized that our topics – him working on tobacco policies during socialist and post-socialist Poland and my research on alcohol and alcohol addiction in socialist East Germany – very much aligned and had many parallels. Therefore, we planned meetings and future collaborations, and with Kateřina Lišková, Sarah Marks, Dora Vargha, Erica Richardson, Riitta Matilainen, and others, we applied and organized panels for conferences together. However, we became friends not only because of our shared professional interests but also because he was such an easy-going, “laid-back,” funny guy. He always made you feel appreciated and comfortable around him; he had great ideas and was someone with whom you could have deep discussions about your research topics due to his broad interest and knowledge. Unfortunately, the pandemic has hindered further meetings, so we hoped for the post-Covid “normality” to finally see each other again.

After I learned about his passing, I was shocked. I cannot believe that this brilliant person was taken from this world far too early. My condolences go to his wife, family, friends, and colleagues, who all have lost someone with such a positive attitude, general optimism, and prospects of a remarkable career in academia and beyond. He will be missed.

– Markus Wahl (University of Erlangen-Nuremburg)


Below is a selection of Mateusz’s publications.

Nogueira SO, Driezen P, Fu M, et al. Beyond the European Union Tobacco Products Directive: smokers’ and recent quitters’ support for further tobacco control measures (2016–2018) Tobacco Control Published Online First: 16 March 2021.

Mateusz, Zatoński and Alan Brandt. “Divide and conquer? E-cigarettes as a disruptive technology in the history of tobacco control” In: Divide and Conquer: The Regulation of e-cigarettes. International, European and National Challenges. Edited by Lukasz Gruszczynski. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019.

Zatoński, MZ; (2019) State, society, and the politics of smoking in Poland, during and after communism (1960-2000). PhD thesis, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. DOI:

Brandt, Allan,  and Mateusz Zatoński. 2019. “The tobacco endgame: where are we, and what are the challenges ahead?”. Journal of Health Inequalities Issue 5, no. 1 (2019): 28-30.

Mateusz, Zatoński, Gorsky Martin, and McKee Martin. “Tobacco and anti-tobacco advertisement in Poland, 1989-2000”. Tobacco Prevention & Cessation 4 no. Supplement (2018): A178.


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