Professor Geoffrey Fong awarded Canada’s highest honour for research impact in global tobacco control

Friday, November 22, 2019

The research of Professor Geoffrey Fong affects populations and helps save lives worldwide. In recognition of his research leadership over 17 years, Professor Fong has been awarded the 2019 Medal of Honour by the Health Research Foundation (HRF) of Innovative Medicines Canada – the foremost Canadian health research award celebrating the best and brightest minds and discoveries in the Canadian life sciences sector.

Geoffrey Fong
Professor Fong is a social psychologist whose research focuses on population-based measures to combat the number one preventable cause of death throughout the world: tobacco smoking. He created and leads the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC), the largest tobacco research program in the world, with more than 150 researchers working in 29 countries. Professor Fong and his team have used ITC findings to work with national and international health organizations and governments to support implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

“His pioneering research on evaluating tobacco control policies in Canada and globally, especially in low- and middle-income countries, is what makes Dr. Fong an outstanding leader in global health, and a most deserving recipient of the HRF Medal of Honour,” says the release by the HRF.

The HRF Medal of Honour recognizes remarkable individuals whose research or contributions to public policies have achieved international recognition. Recipients have made pivotal contributions to the advancement of knowledge in health sciences and/or the improvement of therapeutics healthcare. The inaugural recipient in 1945 was Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin. Other notable recipients are Charles Best, co-discoverer of insulin (1948), Wilder Penfield, the neuroscientist and surgeon (1948), Julio Montaner, for his contributions to anti-retroviral therapy for HIV (2013), David Jenkins, creator of the glycemic index (2018), and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (2007).

On the announcement of his HRF Medal of Honour, Professor Fong commented that among the extraordinary individuals who have received the same award, Wilder Penfield holds special resonance for himself and his family. “My grandfather, Sung-Tao Kwan, was the first neurosurgeon in China, and I remember the stories he used to tell about his visit to Montreal in the 1930s where he witnessed the remarkable surgeries that Dr. Penfield performed, with techniques that my grandfather took back to use in his own practice in China.”

A key ITC objective is to evaluate the impact of tobacco control policies, including large graphic warnings, smoke-free laws, bans on tobacco product marketing and advertising, and higher tobacco taxes. In Canada and in dozens of countries, Professor Fong has used ITC findings to accelerate and strengthen policies to combat tobacco smoking. Furthermore, ITC findings are used to defend FCTC policies from tobacco industry’s legal challenges in Canada and beyond.

“Our research is informing governments throughout the world on whether and how these policies “work” or “don’t work so well”, says Professor Fong, who is cross appointed in the Department of Psychology (Arts) and the School of Public Health and Health Systems (Applied Health Sciences), and is a Senior Investigator at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.

“Our tireless ITC Project team spends much time communicating our findings to policymakers within countries and international health organizations to strengthen and accelerate evidence-based measures to combat the global tobacco epidemic—which is projected to cause up to one billion deaths in this century.”

Previously, Professor Fong has received many Canadian awards including the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance Distinguished Achievement Award, and three national awards from CIHR; he has also received top global awards, including the Luther Terry Award for Outstanding Research Contribution (a global award conferred every three years), and the WHO World No Tobacco Day Award. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Of this most recent honour, he states: “I hope that this award will shine the spotlight on the importance of research evidence to tackle this corporate-borne epidemic fueled by the tobacco industry.”