Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations BMJ Confidential

Judith Longstaff Mackay: The art of war on tobacco

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 01 November 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j4950
Duncan Smith


In 1984 Judith Mackay gave up clinical practice in Hong Kong to devote herself to tobacco control in low and middle income countries—unpaid and virtually alone, but driven by her rage at the industry’s lies and misrepresentations. Now 74, she has advised many governments since then and helped turn the tide against tobacco. Born in Yorkshire and educated at Edinburgh University, Mackay moved to Hong Kong in 1967. She has overcome intimidation, suspicions of spying, and scepticism from (mostly male) political leaders with her combination of charm and determination—once drafting an anti-tobacco law in Mongolia by working an all-nighter because she had a plane to catch the next day. She has written or cowritten a dozen health atlases, morphing statistics into maps and colourful graphics. In 2009 she won the inaugural BMJ Lifetime Achievement award.

What was your earliest ambition?

To tie my shoelaces—by myself.

What was your best career move?

Moving from curative to preventive medicine in 1984, albeit with a huge loss of income.

What was the worst mistake in your career?

I naively thought in 1984 that it might be possible to work on tobacco control …

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