The Georgia State University School of Public Health has received an $850,000 grant from Pfizer Inc. to continue work on tobacco control in Chinese cities started by a consortium of institutions in Atlanta and China.
The initiative will be led by Dean Michael Eriksen, one of the world’s foremost authorities on tobacco control and an author of “The Tobacco Atlas.” Dr. Eriksen was part of a team that administered an earlier five-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through Emory University.
With about $2.1 million, the Emory Global Health Institute-China Tobacco Control Partnership worked with a Chinese nonprofit, ThinkTank, to build and test programs in 17 Chinese cities, working with local governments to institute policies aimed at changing social norms around tobacco use.
To multiply its impact, cities that sought participation in the Tobacco-Free Cities initiative were required to commit to media outreach and targeted programs.
A few methods that emerged from these partnerships: smoke-free weddings in Qingdao and other cities, tobacco bans in homes for pregnant women and children, partnerships with businesses in six cities to introduce smoke-free workplaces and the conversion of an entire restaurant district in Hangzhou to a smoking desert by regulation. One city also encouraged women, who make up a tiny minority of smokers in China, to educate their husbands on the effects of secondhand smoke on their health and that of their children.
Pam Redmon, who worked on the program for Emory and is now working as administrator of the Tobacco Centers for Regulatory Science at Georgia State, conceded that these are small victories in a land of more than 300 million smokers, where an estimated 1 million people per year die from smoking-related illnesses.
But she has seen a tangible shift in mindset, at least among local policy makers.
“Six years ago when we started, (city-level tobacco control) was kind of a new thing, and people were still doubtful. It’s more accepted now. The tide is truly changing,” she told Global Atlanta.
She pointed to the fact that six of the 17 cities now have comprehensive smoking bans for public places.
To those who point out that such policies are tough to enforce in China, Ms. Redmon said program organizers are looking at ways to fund studies to examine outcomes over a longer term. But either way, this is a public-health emergency that can’t afford to wait for a top-down solution, she said.
“We’ve watched it; we’ve lived it and we’re still living it. The things that are happening there on the ground are amazing,” she said. “We absolutely hope that the government does make a sweeping national policy, but no more than the U.S. could wait, China can’t wait either.”
The grant from Pfizer for the new program, Diffusion of Tobacco Control Fundamentals to Other Large Chinese Cities, is renewable for up to three years and is not fixed at $850,000 per year. Ms. Redmon traveled to China in January in an effort to whittle down the new program’s list of cities from 10 prospects to five whose efforts will be funded over the next three years, assuming the grant is renewed.
Lessons from the Emory-led program will color the new one, and cities established as centers of excellence during the first phase will be honored at the ceremony announcing the new grantees later this year in China, Ms. Redmon said.
“It’s one thing for us to tell them, but …. to be supported by their peers, I think it’s going to be another thing entirely,” she added.
One major twist on the new program: Selected cities will have to do a tobacco survey of their local population, a sort of miniature version of the standard Global Adult Tobacco Survey conducted across the world each year. The idea is to have a baseline on which to measure progress, she said.
Dr. Eriksen, dean of the public health school, is frank about the challenges of the work in China, but he also believes in contributing little by little to an effort that will eventually require broader government action and a reshuffling of the bureaucracy governing tobacco in China. The state tobacco company, for instance, is also the industry’s regulator.
The new grant tackles the problem from the opposite direction, Dr. Eriksen said.
“Currently, interest in smoking cessation is low in China, and to the extent we can increase quit rates, millions of lives can be saved,” he said in a news release.
The new grant also brings over another key member of the team for the Emory project: Jeffrey Koplan, director of the Emory Global Health Institute and a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For more, visit http://publichealth.gsu.edu.
Read more about the Emory China Tobacco Partnership here.