Think Tank Capacity Building on Tobacco Economics: Experiences and Lessons Learnt
The commentary article describes the Tobacconomics project, ‘Accelerating Progress on Tobacco Taxes in Low‐ and Middle‐Income Countries’ and the capacity building model used by the Tobacconomics team to develop core competencies in economic analysis among think tank partners, whose research is presented in this supplement.
Between 2017 and 2019, the Tobacconomics team at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a partner of the Bloomberg Initiative To Reduce Tobacco Use, partnered with 27 policy research institutions (called ‘think tanks’ in this article) in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). This supplement contains selected research on the economics of tobacco control from the partners. This overview article describes the capacity building model used by the Tobacconomics team. The article also shares experiences and lessons learnt thus far.
This Tobacconomics project, “Accelerating Progress on Tobacco Taxes in Low- and Middle-Income Countries” (grant number KC 085918) is funded at approximately US$4 million per year by Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. (The views expressed in this document cannot be attributed to, nor do they represent, the views of University of Illinois at Chicago, the Institute for Health Research and Policy, or Bloomberg Philanthropies.) The project supports research efforts to establish evidence-based tobacco tax systems. It is a capacity building project, but decidedly issue-specific.
The project responds to the need for locally produced and high-quality economic evidence by investing in the capacity of incountry think tanks focused on economic and fiscal policy. An important sustainability principle of the project is the necessity of a partnership with an institution, rather than short-term contracts with individual experts.
Research thus far
Depending on the evidence gaps within a given country, research for the first grant period focused on demand elasticity estimations, that is, consumer behavioural responses to price increases of tobacco products. Most of the papers contained in this supplement— from Argentina, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Pakistan (SED1) —include demand elasticity estimations using various data sources and methods. In all cases secondary data analysis was required for these estimations.
The authors from Pakistan (SED2) took this analysis a step further to calculate elasticities among smokers and all households by income groups and subnational regions to increase the sophistication of the simulation model.
Researchers from Indonesia and Vietnam (SED3) conducted primary data collection to quantify the level of illicit trade and historical trends where previous estimations existed. The authors from Brazil (SED4) analyse previous estimates of illicit trade and the cross-border trade flows of cigarette inputs between Paraguay and Brazil, which may improve tax administration efforts to curb illicit trade in Brazil. Finally, authors in Pakistan (SED5) also examined supply side aspects of the tobacco industry, specifically, how tobacco tax increases affect macroeconomic factors like employment, agricultural output and economic growth.
All research included in this supplement was published by the institutions in research reports and policy briefs and presented at national-level conferences and meetings with policy makers, media and public health advocates.
- Capacity building is a time intensive process and requires close monitoring.
- Mentored research cannot be outsourced.
- Quality takes time.
- Direct involvement is best.
How Tobacconomics capacity building works
Tobacconomics think tank partnerships are directed by Frank Chaloupka, the leading expert on the economics of tobacco control. Each of the four regions (Latin America, south-eastern Europe, South Asia and south-east Asia) is managed by a team economist. The team also includes a dissemination manager, a grants administrator, and project manager. The team economists serve as Site Leads, and provide step-by-step technical assistance for the implementation of the research plan. Think tanks also receive technical assistance for effective dissemination and policy engagement. Through the Tobacconomics.org website, the team also publishes policy briefs, white papers and toolkits (among other products) in economic analysis to provide resources for researchers, advocates and policy makers.
Specific research topics and methods are developed in a research plan through a consultative process between the Tobacconomics team and the think tank partners. In each country, Tobacconomics economists develop a research matrix to identify recent research on the economics of tobacco control, and significant evidence gaps.
Before the start of the grant, after a research topic is selected, capacity building needs are assessed and appropriate trainings are scheduled in the first part of the year. Throughout the research process, Site Leads provide mentoring and technical assistance, both remotely and inperson through webinars, conference calls and inperson workshops. At least once a year, think tank partners in each region gather to share their research results with other think tanks and receive feedback. At these meetings, the think tanks also receive training on research dissemination methods.
The articles contained within this supplement have been produced in the first cycle of this capacity building project on tobacco economics. It is hoped that the articles will stimulate further research in building the evidence base for effective tobacco tax policies as well as build long-term capacity in the countries from which the research emerges.