The 1980s Remembered: Who is your rock star? Bon Jovi or the man behind a model anti-smoking campaign in Massachusetts.

2014 Federal Anti Smoking Campaign is Small Money.

 The decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to launch a $115 million anti-tobacco campaign aimed at youth is late, small and laudable. Each year the states receive enormous amounts of money from the tobacco industry to address the health care needs of smokers, and to fund anti-smoking efforts in each state. Unfortunately, those funds are rarely applied to Anti Smoking campaigns, or are applied with miniscule budgets. Here is a look at what one state was able to do without funds from the tobacco industry, or from the U.S, largely due to the efforts of one dentist with a focused mind.Gregory Connolly. The 1980s live on in memory on account of the rock and roll legends such as John Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Bob Marley, and U2. Massachusetts had it’s own rock star in the 80s except, you know, no one ever heard about him. 

Gregory Connolly graduated from Holy Cross in 1970, and went to dental school at Tufts. He worked in Dorchester’s Carney Hospital’s respiratory unit, watching as the patients died of emphysema.

 In the mid 80s, while working as a public health official in the dental division, he mounted an Anti Smoking campaign in Massachusetts. It was then about 20 years after the U.S. Surgeon General’s break out 1964 Report linking tobacco smoking to cancer. Born and raised in Boston, he himself had been a smoker, as were about 33% of Massachusetts adults. By 1992 he got a Massachusetts ballot initiative passed raising cigarette taxes by $123 million, about one half to be used for anti-smoking public health initiatives. Connolly put the money to work in a well rounded well funded public health campaign including municipal grants to enforce laws against selling cigarettes to minors, and lobbying in cities and towns to establish local bans on smoking indoors in public places. The campaign included TV, radio, billboards, free nicotine patches, counseling, and a stop smoking hotline for those who were trying to quit. Importantly, Connolly developed a series of aggressive TV Ads aimed primarily at youth. The ads were not fun to look at, but got right to the point about the damage to the body, and to life itself, from years of smoking. One ad featured a man with a hole in his throat, a tracheotomy, shown trying to shave around the hole, with the message “Be Careful Not to Cut Your Stoma”. Another ad shows a woman with a similar hole in her throat, with the message “Record Your Voice for Loved Ones While You Still Can.” 

Smoking was Reduced 48%.  From the start of Connolly’s well funded campaign in 1992 until 2003 Massachusetts per capita cigarette consumption declined by 48%, while national consumption declined 28%.  The aggressive TV Ads were exported for use in a dozen other states, and the concept was picked by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as a model for Anti-Smoking initiatives. Other countries noticed the effectiveness of this aggressive campaign, and either used the actual ads, or copied them.  While we were listening to U2 and Van Halen in the 80’s, Greg Connolly was saving lives in just one state by the 10,000’s. So I ask you - who’s your rock star?

Would you like to see Anti-Smoking TV ads produced and aired in your area? Each state receives annually a very large share of the profits of the tobacco companies as a result of lawsuits over ten years ago. However, very little of the funds received by the states is used to alert young people to not even start smoking, or give it up early in their lives. Think that we should be helping young people know the consequences of smoking later in their life?

Share this article on Facebook so people will be made aware of how effective these TV Ads can be, and that each state already has the funds from the cigarette companies to mount a campaign that can save lives.

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John L. Keefe
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