CITATION : Dr. Judith Longstaff MACKAY, Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa


A citation written by Professor Harold TRAVER and delivered by Professor Geoffrey BLOWERS

[At the 41st graduation ceremony of Hong Kong Shue Yan University]

Dr. Judith MACKAY is an internationally recognized anti-tobacco advocate who has led a campaign against the tobacco industry in Hong Kong and Asia for more than thirty years, advocating for tax increases in order to discourage youth smoking, for the creation of smoke-free areas, and against tobacco advertizing. She has focused a great deal of her energy on challenging the activities of the transnational tobacco companies in low income countries and on tobacco promotion aimed at women. In the course of her career she has been threatened with lawsuits, received death threats, and been continually vilified by the tobacco industry. One ‘honour’ she takes great pride in was to have been named by the tobacco industry as one of the three most dangerous people in the world. The industry had good reason to be afraid.

There is little in her background that would have led anyone to predict that she would go on to become a leading health advocate for tobacco control. She was born in Yorkshire and grew up in post-war Britain in a conventional middle class home which she characterizes as providing ‘a supportive and caring environment’. She received her medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1966 when she only 22 years old and moved to Hong Kong in 1967, just three months after completing her internship in Edinburgh, to join her husband who had just started working as a physician in the territory. She subsequently trained and worked as a physician in university and government hospitals for many years. While working as a physician she became increasingly aware of the adverse effects of smoking on her patients’ health, and of the concerted efforts of the tobacco industry to sabotage tobacco control, in particular in their marketing to women. Rather than just treating the casualties, she “felt that someone needed to go higher up the river to stop people from falling in, not just rescuing or attempting to rescue them after they fall in.”

Dr. MACKAY left clinical practice in 1984. In the years since she has devoted herself, often alone and without financial support, to promoting public health, especially as it relates to tobacco control in low income countries. She has the distinction of being the first person in Asia to do this on a full-time basis. Her efforts have met with great success.

In 1987 she became the founding Executive Director of the government-funded Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH). COSH was the first such government body in Asia and, as a pioneer in the field of tobacco control, has proved to be an inspiration to other countries.

In 1989 she established the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, a coordinating organisation to facilitate the sharing of information, experience and expertise on tobacco control amongst countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The Consultancy is particularly interested in tobacco and women, tobacco control through legislation and taxation in low- and middle-income countries, and economic and trade issues that affect tobacco. In her capacity as Director, she has also been invited to advise on tobacco control policies in Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

In 1993 she played an integral role in promoting the idea of a convention on tobacco control to the World Health Organization (WTO), and in the years that followed she was closely involved with the development of what became the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that seeks “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke”. The Convention represents first multilateral, binding agreement regarding a chronic, non-communicable disease. It came into force in 2005 and is legally binding in 180 ratifying countries including China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Since 2006 she has worked closely with Bloomberg Philanthropies and its key partner organizations – the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Lung Foundation, and the World Health Organization. She has also been involved with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in creating career paths and funding for tobacco control in low- and middle-income countries including China, Hong Kong and Macau.

She has met with LI Peng and JIANG Zemin in promoting tobacco control in China. She has also helped draft the first tobacco control law in China, raised funds for the Kadoorie Study of Chronic Disease in China, and spoken on tobacco issues at more than 50 conferences throughout China. Most recently, she was invited by the Central Party School of the CPC to be the Leader of International Experts on Tobacco. This resulted in the publication by the Topic Group of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China: Tobacco Control: International Experience and China’s Strategy which provided the basis for the recent introduction of important legislation involving tax and other tobacco control measures in China.

Dr. MACKAY has the distinction of having developed a national tobacco control programme for the government of Mongolia, including drafting their National Tobacco Act. She has also served as an Adviser to the Department of Health in Taiwan to assist them in implementing a national ban on tobacco advertizing.

Somehow in the midst of all this she has found time to publish over 200 academic papers and to address more than 500 conferences worldwide on varied aspects of tobacco control. She is particularly well-known for her ability to transform complex health statistics into a record number of maps and atlases, which are both fascinating and informative and can be easily understood by a range of people from students to politicians. She is currently working on several additional atlases. Her atlases have won prizes from the Society of Authors in the UK and the British Medical Association. Her Tobacco Atlases are among the best known and widely used publications on tobacco control.

Over the years Dr. MACKAY has been the recipient of countless awards and distinctions. These include being made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to health education in Hong Kong and an Officer of the British Empire (OBE). She has received a Commemorative Medal from the World Health Organization (WHO) for ‘commitment in the field of health to the cause of tobacco free societies, and a US Surgeon General’s Medallion for her ‘outstanding leadership efforts in the international smoking and health movement.’ She has also had the honour of receiving the People’s Republic of China’s National Medal Award for ‘help with smoking control in China’ which was presented in The Great Hall of The People in Beijing. This was followed by a Silver Bauhinia Star from the Hong Kong Government for ‘taking a leading part in public affairs and voluntary work over a long period of time’ and The International Network of Women Against Tobacco Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2006 she was selected by Time Magazine as one of 60 Asian Heroes from the previous 60 years, and in 2007 Time Magazine named her as one of the World’s 100 Most Influential People. Most recently, she has received the British Medical Journal Group’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. MACKAY’s success in fighting the tobacco industry comes down to her ability to motivate and support others as well as a marked preference for persuasion rather than coercion. Dr. MACKAY credits living in an Asian society with teaching her about the superiority of negotiation over confrontation. She is an advocate for good health practices rather than simply an adversary of the tobacco industry. She views herself as a promoter of public wellbeing, helping both governments and individuals to make decisions that are in the interests of good health.

What began as a one-woman campaign against international tobacco has become an international public health movement to reduce the use of tobacco world-wide and thereby alleviate its disastrous health effects. It is worth remembering that at least one in every two smokers will die of a tobacco-related disease. Dr. MACKAY’s efforts, and the efforts of those who have followed in her footsteps, have been responsible for saving millions of lives, not just in Hong Kong, not just in China, but in the World.

Professor HU, on the basis of her outstanding contribution to the world we live in, I am proud to present to you Dr. Judith MACKAY for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa.

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