Jack Henningfield's Remarks
Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Annual Lecture
The School of Public Health Class of 2002, Convocation Ceremony, Woodbridge Hilton, Iselin, NJ
In Memory of John D. Slade, M.D.
2002 Recipient of the Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Annual Award in Public Health
May 20, 2002, Jack E. Henningfield
It is a great honor to be here to share with you in the celebration of your graduation. And it is a special honor to make some comments on behalf of John Slade - the recipient of the Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Health. Over the next few minutes I will make some comments, which, if John was listening, I hope would make him alternately blush with embarrassment, and smile his patented I-just-ate 6-Oreo-cookies-while-no-one-was-watching smile.
- If John were here he would undoubtedly have mixed feelings.
- He would feel greatly honored and appreciative for the award.
- He would feel somewhat embarrassed at receiving an award for doing work that gave him so much pleasure.
- But he would also see this as an opportunity to further the cause of public health by bringing some of his messages to you – in John’s terms – he would “leverage” the opportunity. He would do this to advance the cause, not himself.
You see, John did not miss an opportunity, especially with an important audience, to advance the cause of public health. And you are an important audience.
- You are the newest generation of health professionals who are already making your presence felt and on whose shoulders rest so much potential.
- You are also the university administrators, teachers and researchers who will influence the next generation.
- Among you are policy makers, parents, and others who can also make a difference.
- A distinguished United States Senator is present.
- None of this would be lost on John and he would see that this is a golden opportunity to try to infect you with some of his zeal for public health so that you would further the cause.
- This is part of the way that John made a difference from his local community to the global community. He ever pressed himself to do more. He would be appreciative for what you have done and are doing, but he would press you to do more, too.
John continues to inspire many of us who are dedicated to the improvement of public health and in his death his inspiration has been magnified, though I cannot tell you how much his leadership is missed – locally and globally.
Let me share a personal example.
After leaving John’s memorial service in February, I used the modern miracle of the wireless Internet to check the status of a global debate around one of John’s pet projects. That was how to reduce the death and disease among tobacco users who continue to use tobacco despite our best efforts to help them quit. Light cigarettes had been a public health disaster because they did not truly reduce toxin delivery or disease, but they did reduce the health concerns of smokers and their drive to quit.
A long message had been posted from another continent and it was one that I was sure John would have replied to. To the best of my ability, and in the spirit of John, I responded at some length. Later that week a colleague who had also been at the memorial service, and who noticed the timing of my message posting, asked what had possessed me to write at such length at such a time. She noted that I had appeared devastated by the loss of John and the service. I confessed that I had indeed felt devastated but that I was simultaneously energized by what he had done and by the importance of all of us carrying on -- I felt energized to carry forward with even greater vigor and commitment.
I believe that such feelings are shared by many of our leaders in public health around the world. In fact, upon his death the international Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, which John helped to found, established an award in his name. The award is to honor those who advance humanitarian health policy on a science foundation, as John himself had done so effectively.
The real challenge was to assemble an award selection committee that would appropriately dignify the award, and provide the global credibility that would be critical so that the award itself might contribute to the cause.
At the top of the list was former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, former FDA commissioner and Yale Medical School Dean, David Kessler, and former senior FTC and FDA counsel, Judith Wilkenfeld. Although these individuals are all beset by many more requests than they can even consider, they immediately accepted. They all recognized the importance of John’s contributions; they all wanted to appropriately honor him; and, they all saw the virtue of an award that put science-guided humanitarian health policy on a pedestal. John’s spirit will continue in many around the world and in many ways. I hope it will continue in you.
But what did he do and how did he do it? I recognize that there are some among you who may not be familiar with John Slade and his accomplishments. But I would submit that none of you are unaffected by what he accomplished.
- Cigarette smoking is an addiction that kills one half of smokers and accounts for 20% of all premature deaths in our nation. John Slade was committed to reducing that toll in New Jersey, across the nation, and globally.
- He petitioned the FDA to take stronger actions against tobacco and to open the doors more broadly to treatments, just as FDA had played such a crucial role in developing treatments for AIDS and cancer.
- Through lectures, papers, personal visits, and other activities, he helped to steer the activities of organizations ranging from the pharmacists and physicians of New Jersey, to the Food and Drug Administration, the American Cancer Society, pharmaceutical companies, and World Health Organization to be more aggressive in their efforts to preventing and treating tobacco addiction. Ask any number of public health organizations, who made a difference in their policies and activities, and you will find John mentioned prominently.
- He investigated the actions of the tobacco industry. His landmark 1995 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association on secret tobacco industry documents was a cornerstone in litigation against the industry. This paper also helped convince health professionals and governmental agencies around the world that if the tobacco industry could design cigarettes to be more toxic and addictive than need be to deliver nicotine, perhaps they could be made less toxic and less addictive so that people who did use them would be less likely to die.
- His actions have contributed to smoke free public transportation and buildings from here to China.
- His actions contributed to greater access to treatment and more effective prevention of tobacco dependence.
- John Slade made a difference! You can too!
John worked at many levels and he made those levels work together.
- If you asked him what he cared more about, treating the disease in a patient in his office or reducing prevalence of disease, his answer would be quick and simple – “Yes!”
- He respected his patients, he treated them well, and he was unafraid to bluntly advise them on the actions necessary to improve their health. In turn, his patients loved him and he was recognized as one of America’s best doctors.
- But at heart, he was a tireless public health servant who believed in acting to reduce disease and suffering locally and globally.
He appreciated his gifts and he took his gifts and obligations seriously – though always in good humor.
- These were many of the same gifts that you have also been given.
- Gifts such as your intellect and caring for the health of others that motivated you to persevere through your academic challenges.
- Gifts such as outstanding teachers, and an outstanding university.
- Gifts such as the sense of humanity that has brought you here today.
John believed that with such gifts come obligations and responsibilities.
He believed that such gifts should be used to help the person before you, to help your community, and to contribute to world health to the best of your ability.
John showed that one person can make a difference. Let me show you some of his strategies.
- John leveraged his gifts. When he spoke of a clinical case before a global assembly in Geneva, or documented it in a published article, it was not for the simple purpose of telling other doctors what they might do when confronted with such a case. It was also for the broader purpose of providing an example, to influence public health policy that might reduce such cases in the future.
- He understood that by being the best doctor he could, he would also be building a foundation of credibility and reputation from which he could influence policy makers to improve health policy locally and globally.
- John used his training in clinical medicine to treat and prevent disease.
- He used his training in science to extend the science foundation for improving prevention and treatment. He contributed greatly to how we prevent, diagnose and treat tobacco dependence.
- He passed his training on by mentoring and teaching and he was a wonderful teacher and mentor who was loved and respected by those he taught.
- John recognized that his patients and the global population was diverse and that this diversity needed to be better matched by the health professions. He contributed by working to increase the pipeline of women and minorities into the health sciences. He felt this was not only the right thing to do but that increasing diversity of health professionals was critical to increasing the excellence and relevance of the health professions.
He did much more.
This is a forward-looking time for you. As you look forward, I hope that you will think about some of the ways that John Slade made a difference to help you make a difference towards improving public health.
Be infected by the spirit of John Slade. Use your gifts and use them well. Be energized by the possibilities of the difference you can make and you will make a difference.
Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts about a truly remarkable doctor and public health servant – my friend and colleague, John Slade.