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Vital Stories

7 Women Leading Tobacco Control Efforts Around The World

To coincide with World No Tobacco Day (May 31) and the Women Deliver conference (June 3-6), we’re highlighting 7 women who are leading efforts in tobacco control and working to protect the health of people around the world. Tobacco use is a global epidemic that kills millions of people, with women accounting for 2 million of the 7 million tobacco-related deaths each year.

Globally, women suffer a disproportionate burden of harm from tobacco, accounting for only 16 percent of adult smokersbut 28 percent of global tobacco-related deaths. We know that women’s voices can be a powerful force in reducing this burden, both as champions for tobacco control and role models for the next generation of women and girls.

Follow along on Twitter using the hashtag, #WomenAgainstTobacco to see these and other women who have taken a stand against the tobacco industry.

Ibu Ike Wijayanti

Ibu Ike Wijayanti (Ike) is a mother of two from Surabaya, Indonesia, who was diagnosed with throat cancer. Ike never smoked and doctors say her cancer was most likely caused by exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace. The cancer and the surgery to remove the cancer left Ike with permanent scars and no voice. Instead of simply accepting this loss, Ike took the brave decision to share her experience with others, showing her surgical scars and explaining her situation in a public service announcement developed by Vital Strategies. In the ad, she communicates through subtitles and the use of a chalkboard. But Ike did not stop there, she has become a tireless advocate for tobacco control in Indonesia, advocating in particular for the adoption of comprehensive smoke-free laws so others don’t share her fate. Tobacco may have taken Ike’s voice, but she didn’t let it take her ability to share her message and make a difference.

Dr. Esperanza Cerón

Dr. Esperanza Cerón is Director of Educar Consumidores, a consumer rights group in Colombia, and a long-standing champion of tobacco control. She has been instrumental in putting tobacco control on the political agenda in Colombia, through advocacy efforts that have increased knowledge of the harms of tobacco and the links between NCDs, tobacco, poverty and development, making a strong case for policy change. She has worked to engage non-health audiences on this issue, especially policymakers and she has taken a strong stand on industry interference. Dr. Cerón was also instrumental in ensuring the full and lawful implementation of Colombia’s ban on tobacco product displays at point of sale locations (e.g. checkout counters), through a successful legal case against the more lax regulations permitted by the Colombian government’s consumer rights and competitiveness regulatory agency, the Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio.

Emma Wanyonyi

Emma Wanyonyi is one of Africa’s leading tobacco control advocates. As Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the International Institute for Legislative Affairs based in Nairobi Kenya, she is an active player in tobacco control in Kenya. Emma is also involved in strengthening the capacity of tobacco control advocates across Africa, to help others achieve effective policy change in their own countries. She is a role model for the next generation, participating in mentorship programs for young tobacco control researchers and advocates from across Africa, through initiatives led by the Uganda-based Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa and the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research, based at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, South Africa.

Paula Johns

Paula Johns is a long-standing tobacco control advocate in Brazil who has supported the adoption of strong health policies including smoke-free regulations, graphic warnings on tobacco packaging and the ban on flavored tobacco products. Johns is the co-founder and director of ACT Health Promotion (formerly the Alliance for the Control of Tobacco Use), a Brazilian coalition of over a thousand members which was created in 2003 to support the ratification and implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in Brazil. In addition to her work within Brazil, she is a leading global advocate for tobacco control as a former chair of the board of directors of the Framework Convention Alliance and current board member of the NCD Alliance.

Hanna Hopko

Hanna Hopko is a Ukrainian politician and leading supporter of tobacco control in Ukraine and across Eastern Europe. Before entering Parliament, Hanna co-founded and subsequently served as deputy director of the Life Regional Advocacy Center, Ukraine’s primary partner of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. She also served as advocacy coordinator of the National Coalition of NGOs and Initiatives for Smoke-Free Ukraine, successfully advocating for five tobacco-control laws, including a complete ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship; a ban on smoking in all public and indoor work areas; the implementation of graphic warnings on cigarette packaging; and an increase in tobacco taxes. These efforts led to significant reductions in smoking prevalence in Ukraine, and Hanna continues to be a strong advocate for tobacco control and health in Ukraine’s Parliament.

Luz Myriam Reynales Shigematsu

Luz Myriam Reynales Shigematsu is a leading researcher in tobacco control and health in Mexico. She has published nearly 30 research papers on tobacco control and is a vocal advocate for evidence-based policy change to protect health. Her work ranges from studies assessing the burden of tobacco-related disease and premature mortality in Mexico, knowledge about the harms of tobacco, rates of smoking prevalence, industry strategies to recruit tobacco users, particularly youth, and the importance of raising tobacco taxes to reduce tobacco use.

Dr. Wu Yiqun

Dr. Wu Yiqun is a long-standing public health researcher and tobacco control advocate in China, which is home to the world’s largest population of smokers. A former deputy director of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Wu is now Head of the ThinkTank Research Center for Health Development. She has advocated for the adoption of comprehensive tobacco control laws, spoken out against industry interference, and argued for large graphic warnings on tobacco packaging. Dr. Wu has played a central role in advancing smoke-free legislation in many of China’s most populated cities, protecting millions of people from the harms of second-hand smoke.

For more information about Vital Strategies’ work on tobacco control, visit