A Department Feature.
Ask any tobacco control advocate about the most imminent challenge to their work and the response will almost always be: the tobacco industry. This is true to the core – tobacco industry tactics have evolved to match, offset and sometimes pre-empt development and enforcement of public health policy. This keeps us busy. It is a continuous firefight. Legal challenges, trade negotiations and new products like e-cigs are just some examples of the issues we confront, day in day out.
These are all vital parts of our work. But there is one factor often conspicuous in its absence from tobacco control policy debate – human resource.
Capacity-building is often cited as the cornerstone of long-term sustainability for various public health causes. Yet how often does this win our undivided attention, from the pressing issues noted above, for example?
Most tobacco control advocates who now lead the field developed and honed their skills during the negotiation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). For me, tobacco control grew from being a part-time interest to a full-time passion during this phase. Over the three-year negotiating period, I along with others, mostly from low- and middle-income countries, had the chance to work side-by-side with global leaders in public health, and to learn from them.
When the WHO FCTC came into force, it was a watershed moment. Tobacco control experts and advocates could now focus in-country to implement the treaty. They took it upon themselves to innovate, to lead the process, and to work with gusto supporting governments to get the work done.
Ten years on, I sense that we need to boost the energy of this workforce. At present we have the momentum on our side – we need to keep it this way because we are fighting a well-resourced industry. We must not confine our people to ‘projects’ and paperwork. Rather we must focus on action, from high impact, grassroots campaigns to strategic policy development.
It is our responsibility as seasoned tobacco control professionals to bring new young activists into the field, to encourage, inspire, advise and mandate them to take this battle on and make it their own. In so doing, we veterans will also gain much. Experience often tells what not to do, which at times can destroy the innovation and impulsiveness needed to tackle this powerful tobacco industry head on.
Tobacco control teams need to strike a balance – the wisdom of experience with the energy and impulsiveness of new thinking. As well as dealing with the day-to-day challenges presented by the tobacco industry we must ensure we invest wisely and build capacity in our workforce, ensuring we are equipped to keep pace, to pre-empt and tackle head on the manoeuvres of Big Tobacco.
The Department of Tobacco Control is committed to this. We will continue to look for innovative opportunities, and to provide a platform for raising the capacity of stakeholders. If you have any thoughts on this, or any challenges you would like to discuss, we would be delighted to hear from you.
Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of the Department of Tobacco Control