A Letter from the Chair of the Board of Trustees
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) officially became the nation’s first organization devoted specifically to the fight against the use of tobacco in 1967 when my immediate predecessor as Chair of ASH, Martin Jacobs, then a Professor at Fairleigh Dickenson University, made the first ten dollar contribution to the organization.
During the next forty-five years, ASH has only had two Executive Directors, founder John Banzhaf and his recent successor Laurent Huber and only three Chairs of the Board of Trustees. But stability in leadership has not meant an unwillingness to constantly find new ways to combat the industry that year after year is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States and millions more around the globe. Our earliest success was in banning tobacco advertising from the nation’s airwaves. And as scientific evidence of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke became available, we fought for and succeeded in establishing bans on smoking in places of work, air travel and then in restaurants and public places in general.
One result of our efforts was a decrease in the prevalence of smoking in the United States from about 42% in 1964, to about 21% in recent years. This number is still far too high and especially worrisome because it is estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 children begin smoking every day. Roughly half of these children will tragically die of the effects of their tobacco use later in life.
About ten years ago, ASH’s Board of Trustees took note of the worrisome trend that the tobacco industry was exploring; exploiting new markets overseas as the sale of their deadly product decreased in the United States. As a result, ASH hired Laurent Huber, a man fluent in four languages and with proven organizational skill, to join the efforts of the World Health Organization to create an international treaty designed to prevent the harm caused by tobacco to a developing world already suffering from poverty, disease and premature death. That treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, includes many of the tobacco control measures championed by ASH in the United States. New initiatives have also been included like a larger and more effective warning label on cigarette packages that is now in turn being adopted in the United States. One measure of the effectiveness of the treaty is that it is now being challenged in various courts by the tobacco industry.
But clearly our job isn’t done. While we have succeeded in making smoking a dangerous and undesirable habit, the tobacco industry continues to make billions of dollars as it continues to spread unimaginable pain and suffering around the globe. As a physician, I can tell you that there isn’t anything worse than the gradual suffocation caused by emphysema or the heartbreak of families whose loved one is dying of lung cancer. It’s the suffering of my patients caused by tobacco that brought me to ASH. And it is to rid the world of that suffering that I implore you to continue your support of ASH.
ASH is a small organization, a miniscule David facing an outsized Goliath. But like David we are committed to finding that one weak spot in our opponent’s armor. Please join us in our campaign to finding that weak spot with your dollars and your ideas.
Alfred Munzer, MD