Saloojee, Executive Director of South Africa’s National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) was presented with the award by the American Cancer Society (ACS) for his outstanding efforts in the fight against smoking and the tobacco industry.
Named for the late United States Surgeon General Luther L Terry, whose groundbreaking work established the foundation for public health scrutiny of the dangers of tobacco use, the award honours outstanding leadership and accomplishment and is synonymous with excellence. Saloojee took the lauder in the category for ‘Outstanding Individual Leadership’.
‘The recipients of the Luther L Terry Awards are among the very best in the world at what they do,’ reads a letter by the ACS announcing Saloojee’s nomination. ‘An enemy as fierce as tobacco demands a force of dedicated leaders who are equally as relentless in their pursuit of victory against this growing global pandemic. We are so pleased to honour you among this group’.
The award ceremony takes place at the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Singapore in March this year.
Speaking to Health-e, Saloojee said he was pleased with the recognition for his achievement, but noted that his successes can not be attributed to his efforts alone, and is the work of a group of dedicated people. He made special mention of the South African government’s commitment to the fight against tobacco, and the support from civil society, and the many South Africans who ‘stand up for their right for clean air.’
His passion for tobacco control was sparked when he went to work in the late 1970s at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School in London, England, where he obtained his PhD. There he collaborated with, and was inspired by Prof Michael Hamilton Russell, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, who was the world’s foremost expert on nicotine addiction. Russell’s work demonstrated that nicotine was a highly addictive substance which played a central role in maintaining smoking behaviour.
Saloojee began his career as a scientific researcher but then broadened his activities to become a skilled and passionate advocate, policy advisor, and educator, playing an essential role in ensuring that comprehensive tobacco control legislation was adopted and effectively implemented in South Africa, allowing the country to become a model for the rest of the African continent.
He explained that he moved from the science of tobacco control to advocacy because at that time science had already proved that smoking was harmful, and that he wanted to know how to change people’s behaviour when it comes to tobacco.
‘Tobacco use is a problem not only because it kills 44 400 South Africans and 6 million people globally every year, but because of the outrageous behaviour of the tobacco industry’ said Saloojee. ‘The industry has put its own profits before the health and welfare of its customers’. The courts have found the industry guilty of lying about the dangers of smoking; of marketing to children while publicly claiming that it does not want minors to smoke; of participating in the illegal trade in tobacco and a host of other illegal and deceptive practices.
Legislation only became necessary because of the irresponsible behaviour of the industry. Tobacco control laws are intended not to take choice away from people but to ‘make healthy choices easier and unhealthy choices more difficult’.
Increasing the tax on tobacco products makes them less affordable to youngsters. Outlawing tobacco advertising stops the industry from promoting a deadly addiction as a smart, glamorous activity to youth. Making public places smoke-free not only protects non-smokers from tobacco smoke pollution but makes it easier for smokers to quit. South Africa has seen a tidal change in societal attitudes towards tobacco because the public generally recognises that these laws are just and sensible.
With the advent, in the late 1990’s, of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) plans to develop a global tobacco treaty, Saloojee took on additional responsibilities by making invaluable contributions to the structure and strength of the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Committed to building capacity and promoting healthy policies, programmes and research, he has served on the boards of several international organisations including the African Tobacco Control Alliance, the Framework Convention Alliance, the Union for International Cancer Control and the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative, as well as taking part in government consultations and training in more than 20 countries.
His role as co-chair of the 2006 World Conference on Tobacco or Health, and his efforts to mentor new generations of advocates, have led others in the field to look to Saloojee as a pillar of the worldwide tobacco control movement. Through these extraordinary achievements, he has become widely recognised as a leader and tobacco control expert in his home country and, importantly, as well, in Africa and globally.
About Luther L. Terry
The Luther L Terry Awards are held in honour of the pioneering US Surgeon General by the same name who, in 1964, published a landmark report linking smoking to lung cancer and other serious health issues. Although he released a storm of controversy with this report, Dr Terry’s determination to pursue this groundbreaking work that established the foundation for tobacco control is commendable. With this award the ACS honour those who follow in his footsteps in the fight against tobacco, having given the award to such leaders as Drs. Kjell Bjartveit, Nigel Gray, Judith Mackay, Prakit Vateesatokit, the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association of Canada, and the South African Ministry of Health.