Jorge Laucirica: Our work is high level policy, but it profoundly improves the quality of life of individuals, their families and communities.

Jorge Laucirica: Our work is high level policy, but it profoundly improves the quality of life of individuals, their families and communities.

Jorge Laucirica is The Union’s technical advisor for tobacco control in Latin America. Based in the Mexico office, his beat spans diverse countries across the region – at present, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

‘We work with governments and civil society organisations across the continent as part of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, so I need in-depth knowledge of the political, financial and cultural contexts for each. In the day-to-day my remit includes a range of technical activities, from providing expert advice and resources to support a new tobacco control policy, to helping decide what new research is needed to develop and advance strong legislation,’ said Laucirica. ‘To push life-saving new policies forward good working relationships with key stakeholders are vital, both policymakers and civil society organisations working at grassroots. Building trust with stakeholders is central – without this, nothing else would be achievable.’

This approach has paid off. Laucirica was invited by the Mexican government to join their delegation to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Conference of Parties in India last year – the biennial meeting of all 180 Parties to the treaty –representing The Union Mexico Office. This was a first for civil society in Mexico, and an indication of The Union’s strength as a reliable and trustworthy partner for governments, a role developed over the last decade through consistent support and assistance on tobacco control.

Hosting The Union’s annual World Conference on Lung Health will also be a first, as Guadalajara in Mexico stages the organisation’s 48th international event later this year, 11–14 October.

‘We look forward to welcoming an international crowd to Mexico, and will be proud to showcase all the country has to offer, including great hospitality, music and food!’ said Laucirica. ‘The conference also creates great impetus for the Mexican government to make significant moves forward to reduce tobacco use. At present the national smoke-free is law is still pending – an international gathering of lung health experts is the ideal opportunity for Mexico’s government to introduce this life-saving law, and demonstrate that promoting the physical and economic health of citizens is an absolute priority.’

‘In the early days of international tobacco control Latin America made rapid progress. Politicians at the very top of several countries were highly motivated to reduce tobacco use. And people were keen on the policies they proposed – 100 percent smoke-free public places and bans on tobacco advertising for example. Now the climate is more difficult. And the really high impact policies – increasing tobacco taxes, setting up sustainable funding mechanisms, and preventing industry interference in policymaking – are tricky to introduce and implement.  It’s not easy to build public support for them too.’

These policies are challenging because they extend beyond the remit of ministries of health, natural tobacco control champions, and require a whole-of-government approach for effective development and implementation. ‘Many government departments are genuinely unaware of why the tobacco industry must be treated differently from every other industry,’ said Laucirica, ‘And as far as the general public is concerned, tax is rather dull and the tobacco industry is too big a foe to ever really take on.’ No matter how uphill the battle may be, he sees no options: 'If we want to make further progress, we must get buy-in beyond the convert, and make others see that tobacco control is key to sound government and sustainable development.'

With a degree in communications, Masters in Business Administration and international relations, and a PhD with a focus on intercultural health communication, Laucirica is well qualified to deal with these challenges. And his diverse experience as a journalist gives him the language and skill needed to convey these complex messages with impact. It was in fact Laucirica’s years working for the press, prior to smoke-free polices, that first sparked his interest in tobacco control.

‘Looking back it was my years as a journalist that first got me fired up about tobacco control. Although I was a non-smoker I spent long hours in newsrooms filled with cigarette smoke. I was a heavy passive smoker for more than a decade,’ said Laurcirica. ‘My first real encounter with tobacco control was thinking about the rights of the individual to work in a healthy environment, and I think this has remained with me. Our work is high level policy, but it profoundly improves the quality of life of individuals, their families and communities.’