July 24, 2019

Capacity Building in Action: Highlights from the Tobacconomics Asia Partners’ Meeting

In our March blog series on the Tobacconomics approach to capacity building, we explored how we collaborate with think tanks in low- and middle-income countries. In this blog, we will be sharing one of our recent capacity building experiences—a gathering of our think tank partners from South and Southeast Asia.

As we explained in our March blog series, after we have determined our ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’, and ‘how’ with each think tank, we move on to our research process. This includes four steps—identifying evidence gaps, selecting research topics, assessing data availability and training needs, and ensuring quality research and timely delivery.

This year, after the Vietnam Economists Annual Meeting, we convened a meeting with our think tank partners in Asia to share research results, plans, and dissemination experiences, hosted by Tobacconomics partner in Vietnam, DEPOCEN.  Along with DEPOCEN, partners from Pakistan, SPDC and PIDE; Tax Centre and Prakarsa from Indonesia; and IPPM of the National Economics University of Vietnam attended. Additionally, our newest partners from the region, Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiative (CISDI) from Indonesia and Ark Foundation from Bangladesh joined in.

The meeting was divided into three primary sessions. The first was devoted to research methodologies on future research and results from previous research; the second focused on dissemination experiences of the research through means such as reports, policy briefs, key messages, and conferences, seminars, and meetings with stakeholders; and finally, the knowledge to policy channels involved in the advancement of evidence-based policymaking.

Research topics of concentration during our meeting included: macroeconomic impacts analyses, illicit trade in tobacco, demand for tobacco products, and the health and economic costs of tobacco use—all elements of inquiry in the Tobacconomics “Core Competencies” approach.

SPDC and Tax Centre both focused on the economic impacts of tobacco tax increases. SPDC shared their recent report, “Macroeconomic Impacts of Tobacco Use in Pakistan,” and Tax Centre presented the new findings from their new report on the employment impacts of tobacco taxation in Indonesia. Then, Prakarsa, DEPOCEN and IPPM presented their estimates of the level and trends in illicit trade in tobacco in Indonesia and Vietnam. Prakarsa presented their recent report, “Illicit Cigarette Trade in Indonesia”; and DEPOCEN presented evidence from their report, “”; while IPPM presented findings from their forthcoming report, “Empirical Analysis of Cigarette Tax Avoidance in Vietnam”.

The next three groups, DEPOCEN, PIDE, and ARK Foundation, present results and plans on research to analyze the demand for tobacco products in Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Finally, PIDE and CISDI presented their plans to estimate the health and economic costs of tobacco use in Pakistan and Indonesia.

After the research presentations, we then switched gears to discuss research dissemination best practices. Much of the activities centered on key message development and proficiency, application of different voices for different audiences, and effective policy engagement.

Finally, the meeting focused on the knowledge to policy channels process using the example of the Pakistan teams’ experiences in conducting and disseminating their research to inform the policy making process. Along with the concerted efforts of the tobacco control community, the PIDE and SPDC reports recommendation to eliminate the third tier and increase tax rates were picked up by the media and spurred direct, rapid response policy consultations with the Federal Bureau of Revenue on simulations of different policy responses. Although the impacts of the new tax reform have yet to be analyzed, this move is a step in the right direction, and there is evidence of solid research supporting better tobacco tax policies through knowledge to policy channels in Pakistan. This is the primary goal of our work with the think tanks.

The partners enthusiastically participated, shared stories and opinions, and walked away with new resources to enable their work. We are confident that exercises such as these will encourage greater partner coordination and resource sharing, leading to more robust and innovative research and dissemination—and ultimately to better tobacco taxation policies.