The University Record, February 11, 2002

Distinguished professor: what’s next in fight against smoking

By Laurel Thomas Gnagey

Warner (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)
The nation is heading into a controversial new phase in the war against cigarette smoking, says Kenneth Warner, one of this year’s Distinguished University Professors, and the first to deliver a lecture in recognition of his honor. In his talk, “In Harm’s Way? Harm Reduction and the Future of Tobacco-related Death and Disease,” the professor of health management and policy, and director of

U-M Tobacco Research Network, admitted that educational programs designed to get the public to stop smoking have been only partially successful.

As a long-time proponent of anti-smoking education, and respected researcher who has influenced government policy in areas such as cigarette advertising, Warner says the anti-smoking campaign of the past four decades is “an unparalleled public health accomplishment, literally cutting in half the number of smokers, and increasing life expectancies by 15–20 years.” But, with 45–50 million adults who continue to smoke, and 450,000 people dying each year from diseases believed to be caused by toxins and carcinogens within cigarettes, Warner says education alone is not enough.

The latest thinking is that if people are going to continue to smoke, perhaps there could be a way to reduce harm to their health with products that satisfy the addiction without exposing them to all of the dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke. Warner says so-called harm reduction efforts include a host of new products from alternative cigarettes to the more familiar nicotine patches and gum normally used to help those who are trying to quit. But he warns that many of these products could be substituting one set of harmful chemicals for another, thereby introducing new dangers, and most will only reduce the risk of disease, not eliminate it.

Although he stopped short of endorsing any of the harm reduction methods, Warner said the safest are the pharmaceutical products—patches, inhalers and gum—that have been on the market for some time. The problem with these methods, he says, is that so few people find them acceptable substitutes for cigarettes.

Warner’s inaugural address in a new series of lectures featuring distinguished University professors, was held Feb. 6 at the Michigan League. Interim President B. Joseph White introduced Warner as the Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health. White noted that Warner was the first scholar to demonstrate the effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns. In the introduction, the interim president also acknowledged the respect Warner has within the public health community, including quoting a former surgeon general of the United States. “When former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop asked Ken to serve as senior scientific editor of the ‘Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health,’ Dr. Koop said, ‘I wanted someone with impeccable scientific credentials, a breadth of knowledge about the subject, and a reputation for intellectual integrity,’” read White.

A U-M faculty member since 1972, Warner advises Congress, other governments and agencies like the World Health Organization and the World Bank. He chairs the board of the international journal “Tobacco Control” and is a director of the American Legacy Foundation, established to combat tobacco use. Warner has received the Surgeon General’s Medallion, an American Public Health Association Leadership Award and the School of Public Health Excellence in Research Award. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences and serves on the IOM’s governing council.