Tobacco control advocates must come up with strong evidence to support effective policy making at national level, researchers told an AUB audience on November 15, 2011.
“The Use of Research in Informing Tobacco Control Policymaking: A Lebanese Case Study,” organized by the Research, Advocacy and Public Policymaking (RAPP) Program at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, focused on how evidence-based research on tobacco control generated by AUB’s Tobacco Control Research Group was used to inform the public and decision-makers in policymaking in Lebanon.
Rima Nakkash, assistant professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences and coordinator of the Tobacco Control Research Group, explained how researchers were just one part of a policymaking process that takes time and effort.
“Researchers must understand that these forces all compete for influence and that scientific evidence is not the only source of information that policymaking is based on,” Nakkash said.
Policymaking in Lebanon, specifically that of tobacco control, is influenced by groups such as legislators, civil society, and various pro- and counter-tobacco control groups such as journalists and academics.
Wael Hmaidan, executive director of campaign charity IndyACT, argued that even when research turned up compelling scientific evidence, the results were rarely considered by policymakers in Lebanon.
He added that tobacco control was “an issue for all Lebanese.”
IndyACT’s role in tobacco control is to cooperate with academics and focus on niche areas such as political lobbying and raising public awareness. Hmaidan said there was a need to reach a critical group of supporters who could push the issue forward.
There are many barriers preventing successful tobacco control policy-making. For example, Lebanon’s tobacco industry interferes with Parliamentary Health Committee meetings.
Various potential policies suggested for tobacco control to date have been weak. The law adopted by the Parliament in September was the first comprehensive tobacco control law in line with conventional tobacco control provisions. The law will require full smoking bans in all restaurants, cafés and bars as of September 2012, as well as a total ban on tobacco advertising and more severe health warnings on packaging.
Rania Baroud, vice-president of the Tobacco Free Initiative, said that the public should have access to more information on tobacco control. The group said its next step would be to ensure enforcement and compliance through various strategies, such as creating and implementing citizen enforcement programs, public media campaigns and generating funds.
The Tobacco Control Research Group is an AUB-based group of faculty from various academic disciplines who believe it is their moral and academic obligation to increase knowledge through research focused on tobacco control and providing public support for tobacco control policy in Lebanon.