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April 2nd, 2009:

British Medical Journal Group Awards: BMJ Lifetime Achievement Award

Announced and presented in London, UK; 2 April 2009


Prof. Judith Mackay’s acceptance speech

Public health:

I am just overwhelmed by this great honour. I have the greatest respect for all my shortlisted colleagues in a wide variety of disciplines, but I have been extremely touched by the outpouring of support from China to Scotland, from Vanuatu to Venezuela, of individuals, academics, organisations and governments who voted for public health, prevention, global health issues and tobacco control, especially as public health has often been the poor relation to curative medicine.

Early days and now:

When I started working in tobacco control in Asia a quarter of a century ago, it was a lonely job, with no career structure and no pay. Few, if any, countries had even a single person working full-time on tobacco control. I also faced the formidable opposition of the trans-national tobacco companies, who identified Asia as their future.

I received tremendous start-up assistance and advice from colleagues from western countries where initial steps in tobacco control had already been taken, and also from WHO and international health organisations.

There has now been a sea-change in attitudes, activities and grant funding, enabling hundreds of job opportunities in tobacco control, which were simply not there beforehand.


Public Health is not as dull as it might first appear:

Public health is usually thought of as rather staid, even boring, compared with the excitement of working in Intensive Care Units in hospitals.

But in the course of my working career, I have:

  1. been held at gunpoint by Presidential guards in Mongolia
  2. kept speaking through martial law in Thailand, a typhoon in Hong Kong, and a huge explosion outside the lecture hall in Cambodia that resulted in the ceiling starting to come down around me
  3. been vilified by the tobacco industry, likened to Hitler, threatened with lawsuits and received death threats from smokers’ rights groups

Treasured award: I have always said that my most treasured award was being named by the tobacco industry as one of the three most dangerous people in the world. But, given my roots and connections with the UK, my medical training in Edinburgh, my Fellowships of the Colleges of Physicians of Edinburgh and London, my membership of the BMA over decades, and being Vice-Chair of the Editorial Advisory Board of the BMJ “Tobacco Control” since its inception, I think this trophy now trumps that of the tobacco industry.

Family members, and eminent colleagues with whom I have worked for decades, have joined me this evening. And, like Edinburgh’s Sir John Crofton, my mentor since 1963, who could not be here tonight, I have no intention of stopping. I have a suspicion that, like him, I will be working in my 90s!

Thank you all so much.
Judith Mackay

World Lung Foundation/Bloomberg Initiative