Thursday, May 19, 2005

Inaugural Tobacco Control Advocate of the Year Award

Twice each year (and more often if funding permits), I will recognize a tobacco control advocate for unique and outstanding contributions to the advancement of the goal of reducing tobacco-related morbidity and mortality in the United States. Today, I am announcing the recipient of the first Tobacco Control Advocate of the Year Award...

...Bill Godshall, Executive Director of Smokefree Pennsylvania.

The Rest of the Story

I cannot think of anyone in the tobacco control movement who has done more for the public's health and for the movement itself, with extremely limited funding, than Bill Godshall.

Bill founded SmokeFree Pennsylvania in 1990, and for the past 15 years has served as its executive director. SmokeFree Pennsylvania, under Bill's leadership and on a shoe-string budget, has successfully advocated for clean indoor air policies, tobacco marketing restrictions to youth, and nicotine addiction treatment services. Although originally formed as a statewide grassroots organization, Bill has expanded SmokeFree Pennsylvania and has become so prominent and important a member of the tobacco control movement that the organization is a major part of most discussions over national tobacco control policy initiatives.

Bill also maintains an email network (the Bill Godshall Announcement List) which provides timely information and critical analysis of the most important national and local tobacco control policy issues to more than 17,000 public health advocates throughout the country. There have been nearly 1,500 messages posted by Bill to this network of local advocates.

Although Bill's contributions to the movement are too numerous to mention, several highlights stand out to me.

Bill played an instrumental role in the successful effort to derail the proposed Congressional $368.5 billion tobacco bailout in 1997, which would have given the tobacco industry immunity from any meaningful legal liability. Had the settlement been enacted, the Engle case, which resulted in a jury verdict of $145 billion against the tobacco companies, would never have seen the light of day. In fact, the many recent victories of plaintiffs against the tobacco companies would never have occurred, and the landscape of how the public views the tobacco industry today would be markedly different.

Bill played an instrumental role in the development of the Save Lives, Not Tobacco coalition, in which 156 public health organizations joined together to oppose the global bailout. Bill served as the coalition's communications director, and was highly successful in obtaining national media attention that highlighted the fact that the tobacco settlement would have shielded the industry from class action lawsuits and punitive damages, obstructing the pursuit of justice by affected smokers for all time to come. Bill was featured in a number of sentinel articles, including a critical August 1, 1997 article in the Wall Street Journal: Grass-roots activists try to derail tobacco settlement (page A16).

In the book Smoke in their Eyes: Lessons in Movement Leadership from the Tobacco Wars, Bill was described as a "scourge" who was "energetic" and "relentless," and for whom "descrediting and blowing apart ENACT was a labor of love and he dedicated himself to that task." Bill is described as one of the three harshest critics of the global bailout, along with the American Lung Association's John Garrison and Public Citizen's Alan Morrison.

A second highlight is Bill's tremendous contributions and leading role in what was ultimately an unsuccessful effort to convince the Attorneys General to oppose the Master Settlement Agreement deal. In retrospect, Bill must be viewed as having had tremendous vision for his accurate analysis of the likely effects of the deal.

A third highlight is Bill's central role in the successful effort to derail the proposed FDA tobacco legislation during the 2004 Congressional session, and his continuing efforts to kill this Philip Morris sweetheart deal during the current session.

A fourth highlight is Bill's role in helping to expose the tobacco industry's sponsorship of legislation to criminalize or penalize young people for smoking. He was featured in a 1999 CBS 60 Minutes episode that publicly exposed this issue.

Most recently, Bill miraculously was the only individual to recognize that the state of Pennsylvania had inadvertently repealed its preemption of clean indoor air legislation. His current efforts to bring this to light will most certainly result in major public health advances in his home state.

What I admire most about Bill is the fact that he tells it like it is. He does not back down from the truth and from what he believes is right. He is not afraid to go up against anyone, whether it is the tobacco industry or even our own public health organizations at times when he feels they are acting inappropriately. And all of his efforts and accomplishments have been realized with little more than his own initiative and determination, and his own self-funding. While most of us require a budget and substantial funding to accomplish what we do, Bill does even more, and he has done it with little funding.

Perhaps the best quote to demonstrate Bill's approach is from a May 23, 2000 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, in which Bill was debating University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute director Ronald Herberman over the importance of allocating a substantial portion of tobacco settlement funds for smoking prevention and cessation programs. Herberman wanted the majority of tobacco control funds to go to research, stating that more research was needed on why people smoke and that most tobacco control programs were a waste: "We don't believe that the state of the art, the current billboards or media campaigns and so forth, are nearly close enough to address some of the problems." Bill's response was: "The state of the art is in California, Florida, and Massachusetts. The problem is we need to get some of the state of the art in Pennsylvania -- we don't have the state of the art because Herberman is lobbying against it."

For his dedication and his accomplishments, and in recognition of his receipt of the Rest of the Story's Tobacco Control Advocate of the Year award, Bill will be awarded a prize of $368.50, one dollar for each of the billion dollars that would have enabled a bailout of the tobacco industry had Bill not been active in the tobacco control movement.

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