Team photo of the McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer in Australia

Ten years of demystifying law and cancer

14 March 2022
Hayley Jones, Director, McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer

Hayley Jones, Director

McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer

In some ways, the world is very different compared to when the McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer launched just over a decade ago on World Cancer Day 2012. 

Back then, the McCabe Centre was a just few lawyers based in Melbourne, Australia, with the firm belief that law, when used well, can be an extremely effective way to prevent cancer and protect people affected by it. We were yet to run the first edition of our flagship International Legal Training Course. Tobacco plain packaging had only just been introduced in Australia, with legal challenges from the tobacco industry still to come. And many of the international agreements that underpin our work on cancer, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and their risk factors were yet to be agreed.

People don’t immediately think of law and lawyers as breaking new ground in public health. But looking back over the first decade of the McCabe Centre in our 10 year impact report, we can see some fantastic achievements in working collaboratively to use law to reduce the cancer burden and help to close the care gap.

By 2014, the McCabe Centre had launched what would become our signature training programme and started gathering a network of lawyers and policymakers that would go on to shape public health laws around the world. 

Our work built on Cancer Council’s longstanding successes leveraging law and policy to improve cancer outcomes in Australia, and UICC’s expertise in uniting and building capacity in the cancer control community around the world. 

We developed our own global team, with lawyers based in Australia, Kenya, Fiji, New Zealand and the Philippines. Having regional expertise has allowed us to support local lawyers and policymakers to pass laws aimed at reducing the burden of cancer and NCDs in 22 countries and defend laws in seven countries. 

We’ve now worked with 17 countries to help them develop tobacco plain packaging laws. The impact of law changes such as these has been significant and undoubtedly saved lives. In Australia alone, the impact of plain packaging has been estimated to result in 108,000 fewer smokers over a three-year period.

We’ve also contributed to regulatory changes helping to make sure people affected by cancer and other NCDs can access the quality care, support and treatment they need, such as through the reformed Health Complaints Framework in Victoria, Australia.


Using a mix of global case studies, guest speakers, and practical exercises, this Master course offered by McCabe to UICC members on 4 April will focus on demystifying the law for cancer and health policy professionals, to support the effective use of law and get the best cancer and NCD outcomes for all countries. Registrations for the course are open until 28 March.


Learn more about the Master course and register here

Like many organisations have done over the past two years, the McCabe Centre has intensified its online activities and converted trainings to a virtual format. This has allowed us to offer training to larger groups of policymakers from an even broader range of countries. And we are committed to continuing innovation in our programs. 

While much has changed over the past ten years and there are successes to celebrate, many issues persist. Inequities in cancer care, which were already extreme, have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people around the world still unable to access the prevention services, treatment and care they need and to which they are entitled as a fundamental human right. In 2020, only 31 countries were on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal target 3.4 to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by one-third. Meanwhile, the global increase in cancer burden is projected to fall most heavily on low- and middle-income countries.

As progress on reducing the cancer burden continues to be impacted by COVID-19, we need more than ever to make use of proven tools that can influence people’s behaviours on products that undermine their health, while keeping the powerful industries that sell those products in check. 

Legal interventions are a critical part of WHO’s cost-effective NCD policy responses – known as “Best Buys”. When implemented alongside other policies and public health initiatives, laws to reduce the risk factors for cancer and other NCDs can ensure cost-effective and sustainable improvements to population health. 

Law is also a powerful tool to advance Universal Health Coverage, which is target 3.8 of the Sustainable Development Goals and crucial to the achievement of other goals. From health system design, implementation and governance, to health promotion, disease prevention and delivery of health care at all stages of life – law occupies a central place. 

To help build and strengthen capacity within the global cancer community in using law for cancer prevention and control, we are pleased to collaborate with UICC to launch an online Master course on 4 April, tailored specifically for UICC members, on “Engaging with law and policy for cancer prevention and control”.  This course will discuss the role of law in cancer control, including global frameworks and the relevance of international law in cancer prevention, and using the law effectively to advance Universal Health Coverage in a time of COVID-19.

We invite advocates in the cancer community to join us to build skills, networks and confidence in using law for cancer prevention and control. Through sharing successes and strategies, many more people can be champions for evidence-based laws which reduce the cancer burden and help achieve 2030 targets aimed at reducing premature mortality from NCDs by one-third and progress Universal Health Coverage. 

By working together, we can contribute to closing the care gap, ensuring countries meet their global commitments and allowing more people around the world to enjoy the fundamental right to health – so no one is left behind.  

Last update: 
Monday 14 March 2022