Dr Becky Freeman wins TSANZ’s President’s Award

Dr Becky Freeman of the Prevention Research Collaboration within the Sydney School of Public Health and located at the Charles Perkins Centre has been awarded the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ)’s prestigious President’s Award, for her significant work in tobacco control advocacy and research in tobacco marketing via social media.

The TSANZ President, with the approval of the Board, makes this prestigious award annually to an individual who has significantly contributed to promoting respiratory health in the community and particularly in the area of tobacco control, either in Australia or New Zealand.

About Dr Becky Freeman

Dr Becky Freeman

Dr Becky Freeman is an NHMRC early career research fellow at the Sydney School of Public Health, and leads a program of research investigating how new media impacts on non-communicable disease prevention.

She is an established global authority on the potential of the internet to circumvent tobacco-advertising bans and enhance tobacco control efforts, and was the first researcher to publish papers on tobacco product promotions through the online social media websites YouTube and Facebook. These papers generated media coverage and were included as evidence to support the development of legislation banning Internet tobacco advertising in Australia and internationally.

Dr Freeman has pioneered methods in monitoring and systematically analysing social media content. This includes investigating social media user engagement and commentary and original content posted by advertisers. She has applied her expertise and knowledge gained in tobacco control research to the field of obesity prevention.

In 2014, Dr Freeman led the research team that published the first paper on how energy dense, nutrient poor food is promoted to young people on Facebook. She has also lead research examining how public health organisations can make better use of Facebook post to engage with their target audiences.

What drew Dr Freeman to this area of research?

"Tobacco is the only legal product sold on the market today that when used exactly as the manufacturer intends, will likely kill you."

“I first heard this fact when I was doing my master’s degree in health promotion and it absolutely outraged me that this could be allowed to happen – that society allowed tobacco to keep being sold so freely and openly, everywhere, and that large amounts of profit were being created so directly off the back of people dying and suffering really incensed me. It’s such a terrible social injustice!

“Around the same time, I also started working for an NGO that did advocacy work in tobacco control and I’ve been hooked on it ever since. Tobacco control advocacy is a great field to work in too, as we have had so many “wins” against the powerful global tobacco industry. At the end of the day, this is what keeps me going,” said Dr Freeman.

What are the next steps?

“There is still so much to be done in tobacco policy work – around 14% of the Australian population smoke on a daily basis. Australia has done very well in leading the world in implementing tax increases on cigarettes and banning logos and trademarks from appearing on packs. But there is much more that needs to be done in terms of where and how tobacco products are sold. Virtually any shop can sell tobacco products – and cigarettes are more readily available than fresh food in some communities. The tobacco industry is still promoting its products through retailers on nearly every street corner in Australia,” said Dr Freeman.