UW prof wins health award

On Nov. 16, the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) presented University of Waterloo (UW) professor David Hammond the Canada’s Premier Young Researcher Award. The award recognized Hammond’s contribution to the field of tobacco control in researching the influence of cigarette labels and packaging.

In regards to his research of the packaging of cigarettes, Hammond explained,
“It’s illegal for [tobacco companies] to come out and say one brand is less harmful than others and yet they still try to minimize people’s worries about health risks, so how do they do that?”

The development of government warning labels on cigarette packages, as well as the analysis of the marketing techniques the tobacco companies use to make their products appealing is only part of what Hammond’s research entails.

An affiliate scientist with the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, Hammond’s work contributes to Canadian policy surrounding tobacco and to the global treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which 171 countries have adopted.

“We’ve had a lot of success in Canada, I mean we still have five million smokers so by no means is the job done,” said Hammond, going on to point out that “in China they have over 300 million smokers [and] there’s a billion people smoking worldwide.”

Explaining the effectiveness of the treaty, Hammond stated, “If you get something passed in that treaty, you’re talking about intervention that reach upwards of a billion people.”

Working with low to middle income countries such as China, India and most recently Uruguay, Hammond helps in implementing tobacco regulations while testing the effectiveness of Canadian methodology on foreign markets.

Canada continues to be a leader in implementing restrictions on the marketing of tobacco products, such as new legislation prohibiting flavoured cigarettes, that Hammond hopes will be adopted globally.

“We’ve shown in our work that absolutely, if you show kids packs with the word cherry or vanilla, words like ice or fresh, that increases the appeal of those products to kids considerably,” said Hammond.

Discussing the direct health problems associated with smoking, Hammond explained that although new screening technology has allowed for lung cancer to be discovered sooner, it is still an incredibly expensive process and puts patients at risk of radiation.

“Typically we invest all of our money on the treatment side but it’s far better to actually reduce the demands of these services and frankly we don’t have much of a choice.”

That aspect of preventative health care and the ability to influence policy in order to better educate millions about their choice to smoke is why Hammond pursued a career in this field. “That really draws my passion, changing the environment and interventions that reach lots of people and have a big potential for impact,” he said. “I’ve been addicted to it ever since.”

Reflecting on being named Canada’s Premier Researcher, Hammond said, “[It is] less a reflection of my own skills than it is of the people that I work with.”
“I think it’s a testament to the importance of the field more than anything,” he added.