Nov. 1, 2016, came and went, and you may not have noted that another win was scored on behalf of children. A new law aimed at protecting children from secondhand smoke will make it illegal to smoke in private cars occupied by any children. It’s a small step in a gigantic fight against one of the largest enemies of humanity: smoking.
This is not a problem for Seventh-day Adventists, who are one of the world’s largest faith communities known for our abstinence from smoking tobacco. For decades we’ve been known for our smoking cessation outreach around the world.
Last week, I was reminded about being involved in a major nation-wide public health program in Poland in the early 1980s, when the then Five-Day Stop Smoking Plan. attracted literally thousands of smokers who flooded Adventist churches and public venues. The program, which was re-designed for TV with manuals printed in daily newspapers, sparked a national debate that resulted in smoking being banned in public places.
These days, it would probably be difficult to find a smoker who does not know that smoking tobacco is a “destroyer of health,” causes cancer deaths, and ignites numerous health hazards. This said, lecturing smokers about such dangers and making them fearful about the consequences is deemed, by some, to be obsolete.
Our church continues to work in this area by developing new approaches, which include scientific research, and making our smoking cessation options current with technological advancement whilst maintaining that personal contact with those who wish to quit smoking is essential in making cessation successful.
A participant in national tobacco control programs, Dr. Mark Johnson, Public Health Executive Director, Jefferson County, Colorado, comments that, while we were refining our tobacco cessation program, “numerous other groups and organizations have developed similar [approaches] that are free of what some see as the ‘taint’ of religious involvement.”
He says that, in addition, “new medications and other devices have expanded the armamentarium that can be used to battle the physical and emotional addiction of nicotine. While experts in the field still know of the historic role the Seventh-day Adventist Church has played in the war on tobacco, the general public is, for the most part, not aware of our activities. This can be seen either as a lost opportunity for the church, or as a natural progression in the war on tobacco, for which we should be grateful for the part we played and continue to play.”
That Was Then, This Is Now
In the mid-1990s the church recognized that it could also be a powerful lobbyist for tobacco control. Statements advocated for more aggressive education about the dangers of smoking, a ban on all tobacco advertising, and the enactment of higher tax laws on cigarettes. We addressed the issue of ethics that are absent as profits-greedy tobacco corporations ignored the evidence of health hazards. That was then.
Twenty years later, while the picture of change is painted by enacted laws, and with consumption of cigarettes down, the world community is still facing unresolved challenges — and the menace of tobacco is still present, though clothed in attractive, technologically-based new-generation tobacco and nicotine products flooding the market.
It was this very issue that was behind the consultation at Harvard University, Oct. 27-28, 2016, to identify key learning opportunities emerging from historical tobacco control leaders and health advocates, appraise current challenges to effective tobacco control efforts, and initiate collaboration on a roadmap for the future of tobacco control.
The meeting was convened by Professor Allan Brandt, head of Harvard’s department of the history of science, who identified the new and pervasive challenge of new tobacco products such as E-Cigarettes, and their known and potential boost for the tobacco industry.
“Uncertainty [of effects] favors the tobacco industry,” he said. It appears that the emergence of new technologies offers disruptive innovation to the public health status quo as technological dissemination outstrip the knowledge context. Add to this potential of new complications, and in the next years our society will be facing a completely new population with new characteristics — and new problems.
Professor Witold Zatonski, founder and president of the Health Promotion Foundation based in Warsaw, Poland, and a prominent advocate of a smoke-free society, echoed the current and still-to-be-discovered issues in tobacco control. He said that, “supporting the treatment of tobacco/nicotine addiction is of ever growing importance in the context in which most smokers intend to quit. The correct use of existing and emerging medicines will play a decisive role in this.”
“The community of anti-tobacco advocates needs to declare what goal we are striving for – a society free of combustible cigarettes, or a nicotine-free society,” he added. Zatonski identifies this problem as especially pertinent with new nicotine delivery systems entering the market.
A roundtable discussion also identified a need to address the role of social and religious organizations in anti-tobacco advocacy. In the past decades Seventh-day Adventists have provided a robust organizational platform for smoking cessation along with successful pressure on policymakers in many countries. What should be our role in the future when we are challenged by the sophistication and conniving approaches of the tobacco industry?
My takeaway from the Harvard consultation? The voice of Christians and their active witness can add an anti-tobacco message as part of our health convictions.
— This news commentary by Rajmund Dabrowski originally appeared on Nov. 3, 2016, on the Rocky Mountain Conference website.