Professor Melanie Wakefield appointed an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia for cancer prevention contribution

Professor Melanie Wakefield

Behavioural scientist Professor Melanie Wakefield – who has been vital in the implementation and evaluation of Australian public health strategies and campaigns for more than 30 years – has been recognised with an appointment as an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia today.

Professor Wakefield has been awarded the prestigious honour for distinguished service to medical research in the fields of population health and cancer prevention, and as a mentor. 

Professor Wakefield has been the Director of the Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer since 2002, is an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, and has an honorary professorial appointment at the University of Melbourne.

Her world-leading research has vastly impacted the programs and policies of not only state and federal governments here in Australia, but also of governments in other countries.

Among many areas of study, Professor Wakefield has undertaken numerous studies central to understanding the effects of tobacco control policy and anti-smoking mass media campaigns on the prevalence of smoking in the population. This research was a key influence on the Australian Government’s decision in April 2010 to implement a 25% increase in the tax on tobacco and commit $88 million for mass media campaigns to prompt smokers to quit. The importance of these measures cannot be understated, with one avoidable early death prevented for every two people deterred from smoking.

Professor Wakefield is a leading authority on ‘plain packaging’ and her research was key in justifying Australia’s legislation to ban all distinctive branding of tobacco products and to mandate the large graphic warnings on the harms of smoking. She also led a comprehensive evaluation of the effects of the policy, which demonstrated the law to be effective. Australia’s leadership has prompted similar legislation to be introduced in nine other countries and many other nations are following close behind, with her work in this area set to have a significant global impact in reducing the toll of tobacco-caused disease and death.

Professor Wakefield said she was honoured to be recognised as an Officer of the Order of Australia, and said it offers an opportunity to reflect on how far public health approaches have come in changing behaviours and saving lives, but also how much still needs to be done to educate and empower people.

“We know that a large proportion of the serious diseases that affect our population arise from smoking, certain dietary practices and alcohol use. Those behaviours are cleverly promoted and sustained by tobacco, food and drink marketing practices that undermine people’s own efforts to achieve a healthier lifestyle. My work aims to level the playing field to better inform consumers, sustain their motivation to achieve healthier behaviours and limit the exploitative marketing of these unhealthy products,” Professor Wakefield said.

“I am proud that today the daily smoking rate among adults in Australia is 12.8%. This has almost halved since 1995 so we have seen great change.

“However, with a third of cancers preventable through enabling healthy lifestyle choices, there’s much that can still be done here in Australia, and globally, to prevent cancer.  Not only is there far more Australia can do to further push down our smoking rates, Australia also needs to deploy its now considerable public health capability to prevent obesity-related and alcohol-related cancers.”

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said he was thrilled with the well-deserved acknowledgement of Professor Wakefield, and said it was fitting that her exceptional contribution as a mentor has been highlighted.

“Professor Wakefield is a highly respected mentor of public health researchers who has a real commitment to building capacity of the next generation of public health leaders,” Mr Harper said.

“Everyone at the Cancer Council is so proud of Melanie and the team she leads. Their contributions are invaluable in supporting the ultimate goal of preventing cancer in the first place.”

To find out more about Professor Melanie Wakefield’s work and its’ impact, visit: https://impact.cancer.org.au/research/leading-the-world-in-tobacco-control