Stanton Glantz is the world’s best known anti-tobacco activist, researcher and educator. Although he has been fighting tobacco companies since 1978, he became widely known in 1995 when he published The Cigarette Papers. They were based on secret Brown & Williamson documents, which showed that the tobacco industry knew for decades that nicotine was addictive and that smoking caused cancer.
Since the release of the papers, Glantz has continued his fight against the tobacco industry, leading research efforts at UCSF, where he is a Professor of Medicine and Director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, and launching the Smoke Free Movies project to reduce smoking in movies, especially those targeted at young audiences.
Breathe California recently caught up with Glantz in his office at UCSF.
“Smoking on screen and in movies is the largest reason why kids begin to smoke,” says Glantz. “We’ve gotten rid of about half of it and we need to be getting rid of the other half.”
Glantz is also taking aim at e-cigarettes, which are seen by some as a pathway to quitting, and by others as another danger to public health. “When you use one of these things you don’t really know what you’re getting,” he says. “E-cigarette marketing is like the wild west, and these companies are very shrewd.”
He credits Breathe California with being one of the first organizations to take on the e-cigarette issue, including the Project E-NUFF initiative, which is working to conduct a city-wide campaign that prohibits the selling of all flavored tobacco products in San Francisco. Flavored tobacco products are widely considered to be “starter” products for youth that can lead to a lifelong nicotine addiction.
Overall, Glantz is optimistic about the reduction in smoking, particularly in California where the smoking prevalence is down to 10 to 12%. The recent passing of Prop 56, which adds a $2 tax to a pack of cigarettes, should help push those numbers even further, he says. “With a push California could reach former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s vision of a smoke-free society in five years,” says Glantz.
In addition to reducing smoking in movies and increasing taxes on tobacco products, areas where work remains to be done, he says, include reinvigorating the California Tobacco Control program and making it louder and more intense, and working with the Legislature to strengthen prevention and control efforts among populations that are most vulnerable to tobacco industry efforts, including the mentally ill.
“Breathe California has been at the leading edge of a lot of the policy change we have in California and that takes support to keep that going, whether that is volunteer support or financial support,” he says. “It’s the grassroots and community organizations that are always at the forefront of change.”