Professor Emily Banks was recently presented with the prestigious Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand President’s Award for her work promoting respiratory health, particularly in the area of tobacco control.
“To me there is no greater honour than being recognised by the people who are on the frontline of lung health. To be acknowledged by the physicians, physiotherapists, and a whole range of people working directly with patients,” says Banks.
Banks, a researcher and public health physician, has worked on many leading studies investigating the effects of smoking on health. These studies have provided the first direct evidence from Australia on how deadly smoking is and of its harmful effects on the whole body.
Banks’ research has paved the way for changes in policy documents across Government and non-Government Organisations to give greater recognition to the harms of smoking; in legislation increasing tobacco tax rates; and in anti-smoking campaigns.
To some people, however, smoking research may seem old hat: an issue we have already ‘solved’. Banks is quick to point out that there is still a lot we don’t know.
“We recently discovered two new cardiovascular diseases caused by smoking, for example,” says Banks.
When people say to her: ‘we all know it’s bad for you. It says so on the packet!’ Banks simply sees it as a sign that research on smoking and public health messaging is having an impact, and a huge public health achievement.
People still underestimate the harms of smoking, however.
“Even though we have been very successful in reducing the number of people smoking, it is still our number one cause of disability and premature death. And we know that up to two-thirds of all current smokers in Australia will die from their habit if they don’t quit,” says Banks.
“All you have to do is support one or two people to quit smoking and the chances are you have saved a life. I think this makes our work worthwhile.”
**The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) is the peak professional body for respiratory health and research professionals. The President’s Award recognises work that has significantly contributed to promoting respiratory health in the community through scientific research, community action, health promotion or advocacy.