Global Challenges Research Fund:

Tobacco Control Capacity Programme

Building capacity for applied research to reduce tobacco-related harm in low and middle income countries

This is a £3.4 million programme of training and research funded by Research Councils UK as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund.

It involves UK academics in five Universities who are all part of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, a UKCRC Centre for Public Health Excellence, along with research organisations in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, India, South Africa and Uganda. The grant also involves staff from Cancer Research UK’s international tobacco control programme.

“The tobacco epidemic was created in the developed world, where smoking rates sky-rocketed in previous decades. It took us many years to work out how to bring them down, through research, advocacy, communicating health risks, and introducing evidence-based policies. This funding will allow us to work with countries that are now at the forefront of efforts to combat the world’s biggest preventable causes of death.”
Professor Linda Bauld, Director of the University of Stirling's Institute for Social Marketing and Cancer Research UK Cancer Prevention Champion

Bring down smoking rates in developing countries by:

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Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the world. Globally, smoking kills more people every year than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. By 2030, more than 80% of the world's tobacco-related deaths will occur in low and middle income countries (LMICs). Preventing people from starting to use tobacco, and encouraging users to stop, is a global priority. The World Health Organisation is addressing this through an international treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which has been signed by 181 countries and sets out the policies countries should adopt to prevent smoking. The United Nations (UN) sees the FCTC as so important that when it set up 'Sustainable Development Goals' it included the FCTC in Goal 3, which is about improving health and wellbeing for all the world's people. Goal 3.10 says that the implementation of the FCTC should be strengthened in all countries.

However, while a number of high income countries (HICs) have made good progress in FCTC implementation, this is not the case in all LMICs. Signing the treaty is not enough: governments need to be helped to introduce good policies and enforce them. However, few LMICs have the capacity, or in some cases the staff with the right skills, to carry out the research and advocacy necessary to design, implement and achieve compliance with good tobacco control policies. Also, most existing research on tobacco has been conducted in HICs, and is not always relevant to LMICs. Thus we need to train and support researchers in tobacco prevention in LMICs, with skills in economics, clinical medicine, public health and the social sciences, for example.

This research programme is about filling these gaps, building on some good work already under way. The programme will be undertaken in two parts of the world (South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa) where progress on tobacco control has not always been good, and where the tobacco industry is active in attempting to undermine measures that work. The grant will build research capacity in several LMICs, through funding for in-country senior researchers and post-doctoral scholars who will undertake research designed to address local priorities in each country, supported by a programme of training in research methods and public and policy engagement.

It will focus in particular on three issues relevant to UN SDG 3 but also other UN goals on peace, justice and strong institutions and partnerships. These are: tobacco taxation (which helps reduce tobacco use and provides money for governments to build the economy); preventing illicit trade in tobacco (by protecting tax revenue, reducing corruption and helping to reduce crime) and preventing tobacco industry interference (which aims to prevent or undermine national implementation of FCTC measures). Studies will be conducted on these topics as well as additional priorities chosen by countries, such as building evidence for 'smokefree' clean air policies, putting health warnings on tobacco packets and services to help people stop smoking.

Project Aims

The overall aim of the programme is to improve research capacity in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) to conduct high quality studies that will generate evidence on how to reduce morbidity and mortality caused by tobacco use and to advance key development priorities. In doing this we will draw on an established framework for building research capacity1 that has six main elements:

Co-creation of research close to practice


Skills and confidence-building

Linkages and collaborations

Actionable dissemination


Project Objectives:

Develop a consortium of partners led by the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, a UKCRC Centre of Excellence. UKCTAS will collaborate with Research Organisations in LMICs in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, along with Cancer Research UK's International Tobacco Control Programme. The team will be supported by a range of organisations and funders (Linkages and collaboration).

Establish and train a cohort of post-doctoral fellows in the participating LMIC Centres. Additional research capacity will be developed in UK Universities with research fellows supporting the programme (Infrastructure)

Develop new studies focused on tobacco control through a process of co-creation of research topics, data collection approaches and plans for dissemination undertaken between participating academics, government and NGO partners in each LMIC country (Co-creation of research closer to practice)

Apply findings from these new studies to inform the implementation of effective tobacco control measures (reducing the demand for, and supply of, tobacco products) in each LMIC, in the UK and other countries (Actionable dissemination)

Invest in wider stakeholder engagement (for example, Ministries of Health and Finance) throughout to identify pathways to impact and future options for the sustainability of the programme (Linkages, collaboration and sustainability)