Julia Smith receives SSHRC funding to research the expansion of the Chinese tobacco industry in East Africa.

FHS research associate to study effects of Chinese tobacco industry in Africa

July 30, 2018
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By Clement Woo

Julia Smith, a research associate in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), has always been interested in the intersections between health and development.

While conducting her PhD research at the University of Bradford in the UK, Smith read a lot about FHS professor Kelley Lee's work on global health governance and globalization, and was attracted by the global health expertise in the Faculty of Health Sciences, so she contacted Lee to inquire about the possibility of working with her. Thankfully Lee was looking for a post doctoral fellow.

Although she had previously worked in Africa, Europe and North America Smith says, “I actually did not research tobacco control until I came to SFU. I had a lot to learn, but found researching the role of the [tobacco] industry in political and policy processes fascinating, and disturbing!”  

Recently, Smith received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant for a one-year project on The Political Economy of Chinese Engagement in Eastern African Tobacco Industries, working in collaboration with Jennifer Fang, a research fellow and project coordinator for the Global Tobacco Control Research Program at SFU.

The project aims to document how the Chinese tobacco industry, which is the largest in the world, is expanding into East Africa, as well as the implications for global health and regional economic development. It will include a case study on Malawi, where the economy is dependent on growing and exporting tobacco leaf.

“This project is exciting because, as far as we can tell, there is absolutely no other research on Chinese tobacco interests in Eastern Africa,” says Smith. “We hope findings will inform progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

In addition, Smith’s proposal for the International Policy Ideas Challenge, titled Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) Informed Disease Outbreak Preparedness: An Opportunity for Canadian Leadership, was also recently selected as one of ten finalists. The national competition is being organized by Global Affairs Canada and SSHRC to identify innovative solutions to emerging international policy challenges faced by Canada.

“The culture in the Faculty and SFU is very supportive. I am able to push myself to apply for grants like the SSHRC Insight Development grant and to competitions like the International Policy Ideas Challenge because I have the encouragement of a great mentor, Kelley Lee, and a strong team.”

Smith’s broad research interests, ranging from global health governance and tobacco control to sexual and reproductive health rights, speaks to SFU’s interdisciplinary strengths. Stay tuned; it will be interesting to see where Smith’s research takes her next.

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