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Judith Mackay: brandishing a sword for health

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b1689 (Published 27 April 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1689
  1. Jane Parry
  1. 1Hong Kong

    In the 25 years that Judith Mackay has been fighting the tobacco industry, she has been described as dogmatic, meddlesome, puritanical and “psychotic human garbage.” Jane Parry finds out the truth

    Judith Mackay typically starts her day with a session of t’ai chi. Her teacher is strict and demands high standards from her students, but the discipline suits Mackay, as does t’ai chi’s emphasis on harmony and balance.

    Mackay, originally from Yorkshire, has lived in Hong Kong for 42 years, and credits living in an Asian society with teaching her about the value of negotiation over confrontation. Despite her reputation as a terrier at the heels of the tobacco industry, she sees herself as an advocate for good rather than an adversary of harm. She sees herself as a promoter of public wellbeing, helping governments and individuals to make decisions that are in the interests of good health.

    The shift from activist to advocate happened in the 1980s, when she started working with governments in Asia, particularly China, as a World Health Organization consultant. Since then her name has long been synonymous with persuading governments in the region to adopt tobacco control.

    When Mackay turned her attention fully to tobacco control in 1984, she worked alone. “She impressed me as a totally committed advocate for tobacco control, the first person doing this in Hong Kong and Asia on …

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