Over the last 10 years, anti-smoking measures such as taxing tobacco products and graphic warnings saved an estimated 22 million lives worldwide, says Geoff Fong, the Waterloo professor who leads the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC).

The ITC, based in the University of Waterloo’s Department of Psychology, both contributes to the success of efforts in countries associated with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and generates a sizable share of the data.

In fact, the 28 countries where the ITC Project has conducted its research cover more than half of the world's population and more than 70 per cent of the world's tobacco users, including  a broad mix of low, middle and high income countries across every continent.

Founded in 2002 by Fong as principal investigator, the ITC Project is the first international research program for the systematic evaluation of key policies of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) at the population level. The project conducts surveys of thousands of people to assess the impact of tobacco control, measuring the effectiveness of strategies, which include smoke-free laws and education listed in the FCTC.

Tobacco use is a leading cause of death and disease worldwide and is a factor in approximately seven million preventable deaths each year. The ITC project has built the evidence base to promote stronger and swifter action to tackle one of the greatest threats to global health. 

Waterloo prof wins global awards and honours

The past months have been especially  full  for Fong, not only for research travel to Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, and Korea, but for winning awards and honours. He recently received the 2018 Alton Ochsner Award Relating Tobacco Smoking and Diseases, for which the  selection committee noted Fong “is an incredible role model and mentor for his colleagues of the ITC Project.” The Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco awarded him a 2018 John Slade Award for “outstanding contributions to public health and tobacco control through science-based public policy.” What’s more, Fong is listed among the 2018 Highly Cited Researchers—those who have published the greatest number scientific articles ranked in the top 1% of the field. 

“This is indeed great news and a well-deserved testimony to the amazing work Geoff has  done over the years,” said Doug Peers, Dean of Arts, about these recent achievements.

Smoke-free legislation improves children’s health

In the ITC Project’s 10-year review of worldwide tobacco control, they found that tobacco use declined in countries where policies aligned with or exceed WHO guidelines. “The most effective measures included smoke-free policies (such as in workplaces and restaurants), taxes on tobacco products, mass media campaigns, health warnings, and affordable smoking cessation treatments,” says Fong. “The more measures that countries put in place, the greater the benefit.”

The study also found that smoke-free legislation improved children’s health, resulting in lower rates of premature births as well as fewer hospital admissions for respiratory tract infections or asthma.

However, Fong and his colleagues note that these measures may not be enough for the WHO to reach its target of a 30 per cent reduction by 2025. Some countries face barriers such as interference from the tobacco industry and lack of promotion for alternatives for tobacco farmers. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill more than eight million people each year by 2030.