As part of a series highlighting tobacco prevention leaders, ActionToQuit asked PI’s Larry Cohen to reflect on his 30 years of experience working in the tobacco control movement. In the early 1980s, as Larry helped move the field of tobacco control from a focus on consumer education to a focus on policy change, he faced bribes and pressure from tobacco industry lobbyists and led a California coalition that helped pass the nation’s first multi-city smoke-free policies, spurred on by a passion for public health and a desire to avoid superficial stunts:
“The American Cancer Society used to have a frog mascot with a slogan: “Kiss Me, I Don’t Smoke.” So, for a media event, my coalition partners asked me to emerge from the Sacramento River wearing a frog suit and pass out anti-tobacco brochures. “A great photo op,” they said. This was one of those pinnacle moments when I realized that, while awareness activities like this might have some value, policy change could take the movement much further. I declined to wear the frog suit.”
As the tobacco industry expands its markets and influence across the globe, we need to draw on the lessons of 30 years of advocacy to keep holding Big Tobacco’s feet to the fire. Larry highlights several of the most pressing threats facing the tobacco control movement, including: the need for tobacco policy to better address mounting inequities in who smokes and who is most heavily targeted by the industry, particularly low-income communities of color and the LGBTQ community; the industry’s influence over multi-national trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would allow the tobacco industry to sue governments for adopting public health protections; and the industry’s latest attempts to hook kids—this time on e-cigarettes. Advertising messages falsely portray e-cigarettes as safe and use celebrities, sex appeal and candy flavors to sell e-cigarettes to kids. Federal agencies have been too slow to respond. “We could have pushed back sooner, but now that train is at full speed.”
“Even though we have a long way to go, I am extremely proud of the progress we’ve made fighting tobacco. We have challenged a giant, well-funded industry and successfully enacted countless policy changes that promote health and save lives from tobacco,” Larry says.
Read the rest at ActionToQuit.