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Whistleblower Stanton Glantz Reflects on Tobacco Control Progress, Emerging Challenges

The name Stanton Glantz is revered by community health advocates and dreaded by the tobacco industry.

The University of California-San Francisco professor and distinguished tobacco control researcher led the movement to call out deceptive marketing messages disseminated by Big Tobacco companies and expose the dangers of tobacco products during the 1990s. His research illuminated the risks associated with secondhand smoke, as well as the correlation between high smoking rates and heart attack deaths in populations. His research has shown the power of strong smoke-free laws in reducing cardiovascular disease.

But despite progress made in the past 20 years to subdue persuasive marketing tactics from the tobacco industry, the work isn’t complete in states like Kentucky, where tobacco-related illness is the leading cause of preventable death. On April 28, Glantz addressed unfinished business in the fight against tobacco and identified modern threats posed by the tobacco industry during his keynote address at the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy’s annual conference titled “Mobilizing an Army of Smoke-free Advocates.” He commended community advocates in all corners of Kentucky for protecting individual rights to clean air and healthy environments for the more than 70 percent of Kentuckians who aren’t smokers.

“The whole battle is a battle about social norms and social acceptability, and once you win these fights, and you have a law that’s sticking —which takes a while — you don’t go back. And the tobacco companies understand that, and that is why they fight so hard,” Glantz said during his keynote address. “In the end, when you win, you’ve won. And the fight itself is an important part of making these laws work.”

After a stack of papers known as the “cigarette papers” landed at his doorstep in 1994, Glantz analyzed thousands of documents to build evidence against cigarette companies. The documents revealed that tobacco executives were aware of the dangers of their products while using aggressive marketing tactics to put these products in the hands of young adults and adolescents. Glantz published a groundbreaking book, The Cigarette Papers, as an indictment against the tobacco executives and marketers who were misleading the public.

Health experts and smoke-free advocates, including Glantz, have witnessed a resurgence of tobacco industry marketing efforts to target young people and normalize the use of the latest dangerous tobacco product on the market — electronic smoking devices or e-cigarettes. Glantz applied the lessons he learned through exposing the secrets of Big Tobacco in the 90s to the tobacco challenges of today, and said the dangers of tobacco marketing still persist in American society. He also discussed strategies for researchers, activists, and health care workers to resist pro-tobacco sentiments and reduce the burden of tobacco-related illness in their communities.

The KCSP also recognized efforts to promote the health across Kentucky by honoring local communities and municipalities that enacted smoke-free legislation in the past year. The City of Pikeville and the City of Ashland received awards for amending legislation to include e-cigarettes in their smoke-free ordinances. Hazard Community and Technical College received the 2016 Tobacco-free Campus Award. The City of Middlesboro earned the 2016 KCSP Smoke-free Indoor Air Excellence Award for passing a smoke-free workplace ordinance in May 2015.

The 2016 Smoke-free Youth Advocate Award went to the 2015 Middlesboro Destination Imagination Team, a nonprofit group comprising seven fourth- and fifth-graders, their parents, and teachers. The group delivered a presentation about the hazards of secondhand to the Middlesboro City Council and garnered more than 400 signatures for a petition supporting smoke-free legislation, which was adopted in May 2015.

“Embracing this year’s theme of mobilizing an army to end the burden of tobacco, we’re keenly aware of the fact that the tobacco companies have not loosened their grip in Kentucky,” Ellen Hahn, director of the KCSP and the Marcia A Dake Professor in the UK College of Nursing, said. “We’re proud of the communities that are taking a stand against tobacco in all its forms, and it is exciting to see children and adults alike making a big difference in their communities. Still, as Stan Glantz said in his keynote address, our work isn’t finished in Kentucky or across the nation.”

The Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy, housed in the UK College of Nursing, conducts research, collects data, and provides resources and strategies to assist advocates working on smoke-free campaigns across Kentucky. The conference was sponsored by UK HealthCare.

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