How science improved the health of millions worldwide
Meet the interdisciplinary team fighting the number one preventable cause of death in the world
Meet the interdisciplinary team fighting the number one preventable cause of death in the worldBy Kathy Smidt University Relations
The tobacco industry pulls in hundreds of billions of dollars in profits every quarter, at the cost of more than 8.3 million lives annually. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the economic cost of tobacco is US$1.4 trillion a year —1.8 per cent of global GDP.
In response to these sobering statistics, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was created to turn the tide against the number one preventable cause of death in the world: smoking.
When the first WHO treaty was being negotiated, psychology professor Geoffrey Fong realized a research program would be needed to evaluate the impact of tobacco control policies that would be implemented globally because of the FCTC.
With Mary Thompson from Statistics and Actuarial Science in the Faculty of Math, and David Hammond, then a doctoral student and now a professor in the School of Public Health Sciences, the ITC team began its global research to evaluate FCTC policies.
Although it began in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, the ITC Project now includes 31 countries, with a team of more than 150 researchers. It is the world’s largest tobacco research program. ITC researchers have conducted more than 180 surveys, involving more than 300,000 people and built a global data set of 150 million data points.
Recent policies include plain packaging and bans on additives and flavourings such as menthol. The research has led to positive changes, both nationally and internationally. Last year, the U.S. FDA announced it would ban menthol cigarettes, highlighting the ITC study and Fong’s estimates based on Canadian findings that the ban would lead to an increase in more than 900,000 U.S. smokers quitting.
With more than 600 published articles, the ITC Project has shown that policies, such as higher taxation, comprehensive smoke-free laws, large graphic-warning labels, bans on tobacco marketing and support for cessation programs are effective and save lives.
The ITC studies, which are widely known for their scientific rigour, have bolstered global implementation of the treaty. But the tobacco industry is projected to hit revenue targets of more than US$888 billion by 2025, so the ITC Project’s path to improving global health has met with resistance. Hammond and Fong have been expert witnesses in many trials and government inquiries, called to present ITC evidence to counteract false or misleading industry claims.
ITC research has led Canada and other countries to strengthen their tobacco-control efforts, improving the health of millions. In 2021, the ITC Project received a prestigious Governor General’s Innovation Award, which celebrates innovations that have a positive impact on quality of life in Canada.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is centralized within our Office of Indigenous Relations.