Remembering John Slade
More than a decade after his passing, Dr. John Slade’s legacy lives on. Slade was an expert on the treatment of alcohol, drug and tobacco addiction, but is best remembered as a pioneering and tireless advocate for tobacco control. He was perhaps the pre-eminent scholar on tobacco addiction and treatment, and his research and activism helped bring about social and attitudinal change. His work and passion inspires colleagues and countless others throughout the world to this day.
At the time of his death in 2002, colleagues recalled a “brilliant, inspirational, compassionate, humble and truly remarkable public health champion” whose work was responsible for saving thousands of lives. One friend and colleague deemed Slade “the Renaissance man of tobacco control.”
Slade was born in Atlanta on Feb. 19, 1949. He graduated from Oberlin College and from the Emory University School of Medicine. He was the director of the Program for Addictions at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ ) School of Public Health. Slade helped the state of New Jersey develop its tobacco treatment and prevention program.
Slade was part of a group of scholars who conducted scientific and legal analysis of thousands of pages of once-secret documents from the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company. The group’s findings led to a book, The Cigarette Papers, which revealed that the tobacco industry knew of nicotine’s addictive behavior and that their products cause disease and death.
Slade’s research proved that cigarettes are nicotine delivery devices, helping pave the way for the Food and Drug Administration in the early 1990s to claim regulatory authority over tobacco products. His work and activism caught the attention of then-FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler. In his book, A Question of Intent; A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry, Kessler credits Slade with playing an instrumental role in the agency’s fight against the tobacco industry.
He displayed his convictions in numerous other ways, from the license plates on his car that read, “No Cigs,” to his vast collection of tobacco company promotional items which he called “Trinkets & Trash.”
Following his death, colleagues and friends throughout the world shared their memories online, many of which remain on the web site of UMDNJ – School of Public Health’s Tobacco Dependence Program. It was there that Jim Bergman, co-director of the Center for Tobacco-Free Older Persons in Michigan, shared a recollection of Slade, painting perhaps one of the most telling pictures of a man unwavering in his convictions:
“It was not uncommon to be standing in a hotel lobby at a conference with John and see him silently drift away from the group and over to a cigarette vending machine, where he would discretely take something out of his pocket and force it into the coin slot, thereby jamming the machine. He would return to the group, saying nothing, but, if you looked him in the eyes and he was aware that you’d observed his actions, you’d see that wonderful and knowing mischievousness. In his brilliance and insights, John stood above us all, but he also led us with his courage and humble civil disobedience. He was, indeed, tobacco control’s Gandhi, with all the meaning that has, and he will be missed, revered and followed just as Gandhi still is.”
Tomorrow at the 2014 annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT), Dr. Richard Hurt, Chair of Global Bridges and Director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at Mayo Clinic and a Professor of Medicine in the College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, will receive the John Slade Award. Dr. Hurt will use his speech to honor Slade’s legacy.