How science has improved the health of millions of people around the world News from Waterloo

How science has improved the health of millions of people around the world  News from Waterloo

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. 

Story Highlights:

  • 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.  

  • Assembling an interdisciplinary team 

Geoffrey Fong Professor, Faculty of Arts> Founder and Chief Principal Investigator of the International Tobacco Control Project 

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. 

In 2002, three years before the FCTC came into force, Fong, who is cross-appointed to the School of Public Health Sciences, gathered an interdisciplinary team of experts from Waterloo and around the world, creating the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Project. 

Their aim was to develop a deep understanding of global smoking habits and trends that would support and defend effective tobacco control 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 smokers quitting. 

Science is the antidote  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.  David Hammond > Professor, Faculty of Health > School of Public Health Sciences 

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.  Mary Thompson > Distinguished Professor Emerita, Faculty of Mathematics > Statistics and Actuarial Science 

Distinguished awards  “Good, timely and well-communicated science is the antidote to this misinformation,” Hammond says. “People said it could never happen — that we’d never get rid of logos or put graphic images on packages. But the power of evidence and perseverance has made one of the most powerful industries bend to public health measures. That’s very rewarding.”  

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