In this article we report on collaborative, ethnographic research investigating the first regional tobacco control office in the U.K. and some of the dilemmas it poses. The ideal of collaboration is fully realisable in this setting, where the participants are both eager and qualified to contribute meaningfully to the project. However, the fulfilment of such an ideal poses its own problems. For example, the educational level and professional expertise of some participants allows them to fully engage with the theoretical framework to the extent that they could, if allowed, rewrite manuscripts. Other issues are more subtle, such as how to establish appropriate boundaries between the researcher and the tobacco control office staff. We suggest that the collaborative research model presupposes differentials of power, education and culture between researchers and participants that do not necessarily apply in the case of research in such settings. Where these differentials are lacking, the field is open for dominant participants to assume `undue influence' over the research project. To prevent this, we have reinstated boundaries between object and subject that were originally dissolved as part of the collaborative model. As a result, our project is maintaining a delicate balance between the conflicting aims of objectivity and collaboration.