Judith Mackay threatens big tobacco with final war

Sword-waving campaigner has had world-wide impact on industry that kills more than half of its customers

Foes of the tobacco industry: Judith Mackay and Michael Bloomberg

Judith Mackay, the relentless foe of the tobacco industry, describes Sai Kung as “my home town and base camp”. She says she will go on and on and on fighting for tobacco control internationally.  “I quite seriously think I’ll be campaigning on my hundredth birthday.”

Dr Judith Longstaff Mackay SBS, OBE, JP, FRCP (Edin), FRCP(Lon) lives near the ninth milestone on Clearwater Bay Road in an old colonial bungalow. She and her husband, John, bought it 44 years ago and have been there ever since.

“The roles have reversed.” John, also a doctor, was formerly the breadwinner while Judith worked unpaid for 20 years battling the tobacco industry across the world. Now he has retired, gardens, golfs and hikes as Judith earns a retainer from the World Lung Foundation/Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use.

judith2She is used to being vilified and threatened. She has been called a “gibbering Satan” by smokers’ groups and “one of the three most dangerous people on the planet” by the tobacco industry. Her campaigning has taken her to most countries. She has been held at gunpoint by presidential guards in Mongolia and taken hostage in caves in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.  In Hong Kong after threats she has been offered police protection. Partly for their safety sons Andrew and Richard were sent to boarding school in their early teens.


It has all been well worthwhile, Judith insists. “Tobacco kills more than one in two smokers who fail to stop. Nothing in life resembles that degree of risk.”

She has achieved a lot in China. Recently she has been working with the China Central Party School, which she describes as the Communist Party’s ideological think tank. When policy comes out of the Party School it tends to be enacted across the country.

Judith was asked to lead a team of 12 experts that has helped review a 240-page report on tobacco control. Beijing will soon bring in smoke-free laws stiffer than those in Hong Kong.

Judith describes the Hong Kong Government as “in paralysis at the moment”.  Nothing has happened on the anti-smoking front here, except a minor tax rise, for years.  She points to Singapore where in 2018 there are plans for it to become illegal to sell cigarettes to people born this century.

Along with Asia, Judith is most active now in the Middle East. She has been studying tobacco control measures in all 21 countries and gently trying to persuade Governments to move forward.  The World Health Organisation has invited her to Cairo and Kuwait for meetings.

When not traveling Judith can be seen two mornings a week on the waterfront near the Kau Sai Chau car park practising tai chi with friends and tai chi teacher Siu Mui. Swords cleave the air and the tobacco barons had better watch out.



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