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Non-Governmental Organizations' Role in Tobacco Use Reduction

November 6, 2003: Public and Private Sector Roles in Tobacco Use Reduction

John Seffrin, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia

Dr. Seffrin began his talk with a definition of the term non-governmental organization (NGO): any non-profit or voluntary organization which is independent from government and typically depends, in whole or in part, on charitable donations and voluntary service.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) is one of the oldest non-governmental organizations and is the largest voluntary health organization in the world. In the 90 years since ACS was founded, the organization has helped to make cancer one of the most curable and most preventable diseases that humans face. ACS sees its role in fighting cancer as a "co-equal partner" with the private for-profit and public sectors and has set measurable goals for cancer incidence and mortality rates for the year 2015 to hold itself accountable. Dr. Seffrin summarized the major goals: a 50 percent reduction in cancer mortality rates, a 25 percent reduction in cancer incidence rates, and an improved quality of life for every person with cancer by the year 2015.

Dr. Seffrin identified five roles that he believes NGOs can play to reduce tobacco use: citizen engagement, advocacy, filling voids, targeted research and collaboration to effect change. He then commented briefly on each role.

  1. Citizen Engagement: Getting "ordinary" citizens involved in an issue and mobilized to make change happen. Dr. Seffrin described how the ACS has successfully done this by bringing volunteers—many of them cancer survivors—to Washington and having them visit Capitol Hill to talk about the need for more commitment to eradicating cancer.
  2. Advocacy: A crucial element in the control of cancer and eradication of tobacco use, and only the NGO sector is able to do it as part of their overall mission. Dr. Seffrin illustrated the concept of advocacy by talking about "Partners for Effective Tobacco Policy" which was formally knows as ENACT. This was the largest public health coalition ever assembled and represented 60 organizations and public health groups and five million volunteers. ACS has also been involved in efforts in 20 states to increase tobacco excise taxes.
  3. Filling Void: ACS conducts research that contributes to a better understanding of cancer and tobacco related morbidity, operates a call center to respond to the public's questions about cancer, and supports smoking cessation quit lines in many states.
  4. Targeted Research: Given the overwhelming proportion of research funding that goes to biomedical research, ACS and other NGOs have made a greater commitment to prevention research, intervention research, psychosocial and behavioral research, translational research and reaching the underserved.
  5. Collaboration: ACS is currently collaborating with organizations such as the American Legacy Foundation on the Great Start program to provide a national quit line for pregnant smokers, and with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it founded the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids. Also, together with RWJF, the ACS helped establish the Center for Tobacco Cessation which will provide technical assistance based on evidence-based science to promote cessation. Dr. Seffrin described a final collaboration with the National Cancer Institute on a spiral CT screening clinical trial which may provide a viable early detection method for lung cancer to help improve survivability.

Dr. Seffrin closed his remarks by reminding the committee and observers that because NGOs have more freedom to change and adapt their missions than other sectors of society they can play a crucial role in efforts to reduce tobacco use.

Dr. Carmona thanked Dr. Seffrin and introduced the next speaker.

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