Students in a classroom listen to a talk on Tobacco Advertising: Effects on Youth, which is visible on the presenter's laptop monitor

Tobacco Control: An Empowering Effort

In the 21st century, there will be an estimated 1 billion tobacco deaths.

By Stephanie Shapiro

Already an anti-tobacco activist, Alejandro Madrazo Lajous came away from this summer's Global Tobacco Control Leadership Program freshly armed with up-to-date intelligence, tactical expertise and dozens of allies.

The third annual program organized by the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Bloomberg School "provided me with a complete picture of all major tobacco control issues," says Lajous, a professor of constitutional law at the National University in Mexico.

During the intensive two-week course, 72 public health advocates from around the world learned strategies for making use of available tobacco-control funding. They also mastered the elements of effective tobacco-control campaigns and education training programs.

They even traveled to New York, where they heard Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Microsoft's Bill Gates announce a historic $500 million initiative to curb the worldwide smoking epidemic.

"My imagination grew fast during the two weeks of the program," says Poland's Agata Ziemnicka, a researcher at the Warsaw Cancer Center and Health Promotion Foundation. It "gave me not only the tools and data, showing the strategies and statistics, but inspired me to start the [anti-tobacco] revolution in my country," she says.

For Nanik Widayani Soetardi, the program emphasized the critical importance of monitoring secondhand smoke. He plans to publicize documents that would help to expose the Indonesian government's reluctance to regulate tobacco in a country where more than 58 percent of men and 26 percent of children smoke, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Soetardi, director of the Public Health Empowerment Section for the department of health in Bogor City, also resolved to implement a secondhand smoke monitoring system for ensuring that smokefree policies are observed.

The leadership program is one of several School efforts to create a global tobacco control campaign. A Tobacco Control Certificate program is also "geared to this growing workforce that we're trying to build around the world to carry on the necessary work," says Institute co-director Frances A. Stillman, EdD. Free online training is available to policymakers, researchers, educators and the public through the website.

Public health advocates are fighting an uphill battle, Stillman concedes. So far, efforts to curtail an industry that spends tens of billions of dollars annually to market its products have only been moderately successful. The smoking rates in developing countries have continued to grow because the tobacco industry recognizes them as large potential markets, she says.

But she hopes the international leaders trained here each summer can begin to turn the tide.

Mexico's Lajous left Baltimore optimistic that he can make a difference. "The program connected me with a vast network of colleagues around the world—from the Philippines, to Poland, to India, to Argentina—with very diverse areas of expertise: lawyers, economists, psychologists," says Lajous.

"Networking is certainly an empowering tool," he says. "When one feels outgunned in a gun fight, it is important to know you are not alone."