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Professional focus: Professor Elif Dagli

Professional focus: Professor Elif Dagli

In this interview, Professor Elif Dagli, Scientific Committee Chair for the Turkish Thoracic Society and former Chair of the ERS Tobacco Control Committee, talks about how she became involved in tobacco control and what she hopes to see in the future, ahead of World No Tobacco Day on 30 May 2014.

Can you tell us about your area of work?

I am a paediatric pulmonologist and I’ve worked in my current role at the University of Istanbul in Turkey for 23 years. I am also involved in tobacco control and have been an advocate in this area since 1985.

How did you become involved in this field?

I was appointed as a paediatric consultant in a chest hospital in 1985. I was amazed to see that surgeons would be treating people with lung cancer and removing tumours, and then retiring to the doctors’ room to have a cigarette. In some cases, they would even do their rounds whilst smoking and telling patients that they needed to stop smoking if they wanted to improve their health. This was so hypocritical to me that I began to research smoking cessation and tobacco control.

I attended an international scientific meeting a few years later, where I presented some research to a room full of tobacco control experts. Meeting with them and sharing ideas sparked my interest even more. The contacts I gained in this meeting and the knowledge that was shared allowed me to bring new ideas back to Turkey to help drive forward the tobacco control agenda.

Can you tell us about World No Tobacco Day this year – what is the theme and how is it being marked?

World No Tobacco Day is a great opportunity to raise the profile of tobacco control activities. This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners are calling on countries to raise taxes on tobacco.

This is one of the key measures from the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which was developed in response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic. It aims to protect people from the dangers of tobacco consumption by providing a set of universal standards to limit the use of tobacco.

Research shows that higher taxes are very effective at reducing tobacco use among all groups of people, especially lower-income groups and in preventing young people from starting to smoke. The tobacco industry argues that if taxes are raised, smuggling of illegal products will increase. This is not the case and research has shown that this argument is false.

The World No Tobacco Day will be a great opportunity to raise the profile of one of the key aims of the FCTC that can really make a difference to people’s health.

What changes do you hope to see in the future regarding tobacco control?   

Although many advances have been made in the field of tobacco control in Europe, there are still huge steps to make in implementing the convention across Europe. The main obstacle to this is the tobacco industry that is able to manipulate governments into weakening legislation. I hope to this kind of lobbying and influence from the industry will be eradicated in the future so that the health of Europeans is put before commercial interests.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I am passionate about the cause I believe in. I think that working in the tobacco control field takes a lot of courage. I am annoyed by the hypocrisy I can see and I want to be part of the change. As a paediatrician, it amazes me that a team of people can work on saving the life of a new born infant who weighs less than 1 pound, in comparison to seeing hundreds of thousands of people die each year while we continue to allow tobacco use. I want to help restrict tobacco use and the harm it causes as it is a man-made and preventable health problem.

What are you most proud of in your career?

If I had not met international friends at a medical meeting over 20 years ago, I would not have been able to bring tobacco control techniques to Turkey. When I met other experts at that meeting, it all started with a small snowball that came to Turkey and created an avalanche. The smoking rate in Turkey was 63% among males and 24% among females in 1985. Those rates have dropped to 47% in males and 13% in females and I am proud of this success that would never have happened without international knowledge.