A Q&A with Tobacco Control’s Editor-in-Chief, Professor Ruth Malone

To mark the 30th anniversary of the first publication of Tobacco Control journal we asked current Editor-in-Chief (EiC), Professor Ruth Malone, about her background, what being EiC really means day-to-day, where she would like to take the journal during her remaining tenure and finally, for authors, some key advice if you are thinking of preparing a manuscript for Tobacco Control. So, over to Ruth.

Professor Ruth Malone, has been Editor-in-Chief of Tobacco Control since 2009

Ruth, please tell us a little bit about yourself, your academic and professional background and what motivated you to become Editor-in-Chief?

I have a PhD in nursing and health policy and became interested in tobacco control during a postdoc when I was working on tobacco related research. My mentor, Lisa Bero, was one of the early researchers investigating tobacco industry influences on science, and she gradually introduced me to many of the leading thinkers in the field, including the then-EiC of Tobacco Control, Simon Chapman. I had long been an active reviewer for the journal and had served as a guest editor for several special issues, and I’ve always loved editing. After being encouraged to apply by several colleagues, I was excited about the opportunity to be part of the global conversations in the field as the editor of an international journal.

Can you describe a day in the life of an Editor-in-Chief?

Each day really is different. Most days involve logging in to screen new submissions and make difficult initial decisions about which papers should move ahead and be assigned for further full review by one of the senior editors. If I desk reject a paper, I always try to make suggestions about other journals to target, if I can. Having been on the receiving end of many rejection letters for papers of my own, I know it’s hard to get those letters. But every experienced researcher gets them, and it’s best to just brush off and keep moving forward. Our editorial decisions are based on so many factors, including the current whole pipeline of competing submissions and accepted manuscripts. Every three weeks we have our senior editorial meeting, where we discuss all the papers and decide which ones will continue to external peer review. We discuss our journal policies and procedures, developments in the field, new research areas, and how studies may impact policy in the field. A lot of our editors’ time is spent soliciting peer reviewers for papers. We always aim to get reviewers with relevant expertise and we have wonderful reviewers who say yes a lot, but sometimes we struggle and have to ask many, many people before we get two or three to agree to review. Periodically I check the “overdue tasks” and try to chase up late reviews. There are also editorials to be written, manuscripts to be edited, monitoring of tobacco control-related news, and the editor-in-chief also interfaces with the BMJ Journals publishing team on production issues, research integrity and other matters.

What are your plans for the journal, and what would you like to achieve over the next few years?

I am actually nearing the end of my term as EiC and expect to be ready to step down sometime in late 2023. Before I depart I am hoping to produce some webinars for authors on what editors look for and how to position their work, and to maybe have some live online Q&A sessions with all or several of the senior editors responding to author questions. We always tried to do a session like this at major global conferences, but unfortunately the pandemic has shut that down the last couple of years. After I step down, I hope to continue writing the occasional editorial or analytic opinion piece and cheerleading the global movement toward a tobacco endgame, which I consider that the journal has played an important role in advancing.

What advice can you give to people who are thinking of submitting their work to the journal?

First, take some time to look through several issues of the journal in the online archives. It’s surprising to me how many times we are sent papers and the author has obviously never read an issue of the journal—for example, we sometimes get papers about better methods for producing more tobacco on farms. That’s not what the journal publishes.

Second, be sure you put some time into refining your cover letter and abstract. Those are typically the only things I have time to read before making the initial decision about whether your full paper will move forward for further review by one of the senior editors. The volume of papers we get doesn’t allow me to read all of them in full, so this is the place to tell me BRIEFLY what your paper is about and why it matters. Don’t waste this opportunity to pitch your paper!

Third, be sure you have read all the instructions for authors and follow them. They may look daunting, but they will save you time later. Our typical word count for papers is 3500 words and we have limited page space. Don’t bother submitting 7500 word papers and saying it is qualitative research and you can’t possibly make it shorter. Your paper will be rejected because it does not meet our guidelines.

Finally, don’t be discouraged if you do get a letter rejecting your paper. There are many other journals, both tobacco control-focused and more general public health journals that are always looking for good work. And if your first submissions don’t succeed, try again!

The 30 year anniversary edition of Tobacco Control is available to read now.


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