Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reflections from the long road to tobacco regulation

As we wait for President Obama to sign the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, it would be impossible not to look back over the years and decades of work that led to this historic victory.

Two former American Heart Association CEO's, Dudley Hafner and Cass Wheeler, have agreed to share their reflections on this blog. Both men were instrumental in tobacco control efforts and I think you'll enjoy their insiders' perspective.

Dudley Hafner: "In 1964 my boss and I could have flown to Los Angles for a meeting of the American Cancer Society (my first employer in the health community). Instead we took the train from San Antonio to LA so that we could isolate and study Surgeon General Luther Terry’s newly released report titled “Smoking or Health”. The committee and the report had literally been under armed security until its release the week before. Until this report we had only a few giants such as Alton Oshsner to encourage us to attack the Tobacco Industry and its defenders in Congress and in state capitals. Now we had the science needed to start building programs. Unfortunately, it was not until 1980 that the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association realized and accepted their organizations responsibility to go outside traditional community education and research to become fully engaged in the legislative/political process. Up until that time it was considered unseemly for volunteer organizations to be out front on legislative issues. "

Cass Wheeler: "What an amazing accomplishment that we finally have tobacco regulated to the same level as orange juice, but it’s been a long time coming and a hard fought battle. The fight actually began in the 1960s when the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association recognized the adverse health affects of tobacco use. Our primary tool at that time was education, and we launched a full scale anti smoking educational program is schools across the country. It was in the late 60s that tobacco ads were prohibited on television. The fight went on in this David and Goliath fashion for many years. Our approach was to save one life at a time. That began to change in the late seventies, as I recall, when it was demonstrated that a significant increase in excise taxes would reduce consumption particularly among youth. So, we recognized that we could affect behavior change with something other than education, and advocacy became another arrow in our quiver. In 1980 we recognized that we needed to formalize our partnership with the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association and thus was born the Coalition on Smoking or Health and our first director was Matt Myers who is now the CEO of Tobacco Free Kids. We learned a lot about working together and trying to speak with one voice. "

Stay tuned for more from Cass and Dudley over the next few days...

While we look ahead to the President's bill signing, take a moment to thank Members of Congress who voted to pass this life-saving legislation. Visit to send your email.

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