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World-leading tobacco campaigner congratulated on honorary degree

Health campaigners have congratulated Dr Judith Mackay, one of the world’s foremost tobacco researchers and campaigners, on her receipt of an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh on Friday 1 July 2016.

Dr Mackay received her medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1966, before moving to Hong Kong in 1967. There, she became one of the world’s leading advocates of tobacco control measures. Over a long career in South East Asia and around the world, she has advised many governments, NGOs and international organisations on how and why they should implement policies to protect against the harm of smoking.

Perhaps her greatest achievement has been the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first international treaty on public health. An initiative of the World Health Organisation, Dr Mackay’s efforts as senior policy advisor to that body helped to shape the treaty and take it from an idea to a reality which now helps to protect more than 90% of the world’s population.

In recognition of her efforts she has received many international rewards, including the WHO Commemorative Medal and the BMJ Lifetime Achievement Award, and was recognised in 2007 as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 people who shape the world.

Speaking about the award, Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland, said:

“Judith is an inspiration to everyone working to protect people from the harms of tobacco. Thanks to her tireless efforts, countless people in Asia and around the world have lived longer, healthier lives. I can’t think of a better legacy to celebrate than that, nor of a better inspiration for Scotland’s ongoing work to reduce the harms of tobacco”.

Dr Mackay herself said:

“It is with deep gratitude that I accept the honorary doctorate. It is an especial honour to share this occasion with today’s graduates, looking towards their future.

“My medical degree has taken me in unimaginable directions. I found myself in pitched battle with one of the most powerful commercial companies in the world. It has been as a particular honour to be identified by the transnational tobacco companies as one of the three most dangerous people in the world!

“I had to learn – on the job – how to become:

An economist, as economic arguments are what sway governments more than health arguments
Skilled in tax issues, in lobbying Ministers of Finance
An expert witness, cross-examined in court by tobacco industry lawyers in a brutal cigarette smuggling trial
A media expert, making public health newsworthy
An expert in law and trade, navigating UN treaties, free-trade disputes and litigation
A historian, utilising Sun Tzu’s 500BC “Art of War” strategies to counter ‘big tobacco’.

“The world is smaller than I thought: my work is surprisingly similar in different population countries, different political systems, and different stages of economic development. It is the same product, same harm, same obstacles and same actions that need to be taken.

“In my own profession, a medical degree enables graduates not only to become family doctors or specialists, in the UK or elsewhere, but to work in forensic pathology, population health, fathoming the workings of the human mind, or with DNA and life itself. In health sciences and in education also, your degree is a passport – you can use it to travel to many different destinations. My warmest wishes for your future, and thank you again.”


For further information please contact ASH Scotland on 0131 225 4725 or . Out of hours mobile 07776 142 299

Notes for Editors

Further details and photographs from the event (11am Fri 1st) from Edinburgh University press team:

Further details about honorary degree awards are available at

Action on Smoking & Health (Scotland) (ASH Scotland) is an independent Scottish charity working in partnership to protect people from the harm caused by tobacco. Registered Scottish charity number SC 010412.

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