Global Smoke-free Worksite Challenge Debuts

Partners at the announcement of the Global Smokefree Challenge (left to right): Russell Deyo, Vice President & General Counsel, Johnson & Johnson; Dr. John Noseworthy, President & CEO, Mayo Clinic; President Bill Clinton; HRH Princess Ghida Talal of Jordan, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, King Hussein Cancer Foundation; Dr. John Seffrin, CEO, American Cancer Society; Dr. Regina Benjamin, US Surgeon General; Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Co-Chairman, GBCHealth Initiative

“This is historic,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Howard Koh.  “As a physician it is a source of anguish to see your patients suffering avoidable suffering, and dying avoidable deaths.”

The Global Smoke-free Worksite Challenge, announced Wednesday at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, invites employers to protect their employees from the harms of secondhand smoke by implementing 100 percent smoke-free policies.

The Challenge is a multi-sector partnership comprised of private sector companies, NGOs, governments and intragovernmental organizations focused on expanding the number of employees who are protected from secondhand smoke in the workplace.

Founding leaders include the American Cancer Society, Johnson & Johnson, Mayo Clinic, GBCHealth, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The World Health Organization also supports the initiative.

“This is about leadership,” said Dr. Richard Hurt, Director of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center and Chair of Global Bridges, a healthcare alliance to advance treatment of tobacco dependence.

In 1987 Mayo Clinic became one of the first smoke-free medical centers in the United States.

Mayo’s leadership led eventually to county- and then statewide smoke-free legislation; Mayo Clinic itself is now tobacco-free campus-wide, and has begun discussions with its suppliers to invite them to join.

Dr. Hurt said, “Cigarettes are a 20th century phenomenon; we now need to re-normalize to a world without tobacco.”

The Challenge is unique because its leadership comes from all sectors.

Matt Myers, CEO of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, emphasized the importance of bringing the business community together with governments and civil society to urge elected officials to deliver on their promises.

As he pointed out, “One hundred and seventy-four countries have signed the Framework Convention,” which means they have already promised to implement 100% smoke-free legislation.  To date, more than 30 countries have enacted comprehensive smoke-free laws.

Protecting citizens from secondhand smoke reduces tobacco consumption and also has measureable health benefits.

Dr. A. Murat Tuncer, Head of the Department of Cancer Control in the Ministry of Health of Turkey, stated that after his country became smoke-free in 2008, national smoking prevalence has dropped from 29.8 to 17.7 percent.

He emphasized that with dedication and strong advocates, meaningful changes can be made.

Dr. Eduardo Bianco, who has been instrumental in catalyzing policy change in his home country of Uruguay, agreed: “a few people, a dream, a strong political advocate (in Uruguay, the President of the Republic) and international support” made the difference.

Johnson & Johnson implemented a worldwide tobacco-free policy in 1997 and is inviting other multinationals to follow this example.

Dr. Rick Bruno, Senior Director of Occupational Health and Wellness of Pfizer, described his company’s  global implementation process which is expected to be complete by 2014.

Discussions are ongoing with other multinational employer organizations.

Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights, cautioned against inadvertently sending the message that smoke-free is simply a matter for employer choice.

In the United States, only 30 states have comprehensive smoke-free laws; no new laws have been passed in 2011, and several state legislations have proposed minor weakening of laws.

There is still much work to be done.