Robin Koval heads Legacy, the nation’s largest smoking prevention and cessation foundation. She brings to the job a 25-year background in marketing, communications and cause-related advocacy. During her career, she has received numerous awards including: in 2011 Advertising Age listed her as one of its “Most Influential Women in Advertising”; and Self-Made Magazine named her one of its Top 50 “Women Entrepreneurs Who Inspire.” The Academy of Women's Health is particularly grateful to Legacy for sponsoring Surgeon General Boris Lushniak’s talk on smoking, at the Academy’s 2014 Conference in Washington.
Editor: Where are we on women and smoking?
Koval: Sadly, every year more than 201,000 women die of tobacco-related disease. There’s a misperception that more women die from breast cancer, but the number one cancer that kills women today is tobacco-caused lung cancer. From this year’s Surgeon General’s Report, we see that the list of known tobacco-caused diseases continues to grow. Many of these diseases specifically impact women such as infertility, miscarriage, low weight babies and ectopic pregnancies.
Editor: What is Legacy doing to decrease tobacco use?
Koval: We have effective tools such as public education, strong clean air laws and price increases for tobacco products. Going forward, our organization will be making a major reinvestment in youth and young adult smoking prevention efforts. Since more than 86% of adult smokers tried their first cigarette before they turned 18, and since about one third of youth smokers will eventually die from a tobacco-related disease, prevention with this group is a high priority for us. The end goal is a smoke-free generation.
Editor: How do you go about reaching young people?
Koval: Our major effort is the truth® campaign, a national youth tobacco prevention counter-marketing effort. In addition to television and radio, we have an advanced online and social media component, and we speak to youth in their own language, arming them with the facts about the health and social consequences of smoking. We also expose the marketing tactics of Big Tobacco.
Editor: What kinds of success have you had with truth®?
Koval: truth® started in 2000 and in that time, it has been proven to have protected 450,000 young people from smoking. That’s an impressive figure when you consider that the tobacco companies spend nearly $9 billion per year marketing its products. The fact is, we spend in a year what they spend in a day, but our success comes in part because, in addition to the compelling facts that we provide, we’ve been able to create an emotional connection with young people. We show how Big Tobacco is manipulating them and lying to them, and trying to get them hooked on something that will kill half of its users. One of the hot button emotional issues for young people is control, and in the ads and social media, we show how Big Tobacco is working to control them. We also have an on-the-ground truth® tour that goes to college campuses, theme parks and any place where you have gatherings of youth. We make it fun and interactive, with music and games. It’s a kind of a one-to-one inoculation.
Editor: What about smoking cessation for adults? Do you have advice for health care providers who are trying to help their patients quit?
Koval: The number one advice is, don’t give up on your patients. Keep in mind that it may take an average of 11 attempts before a smoker is able to stay smoke free. Also, although quitting cold turkey works for a few, the odds of success increase dramatically when accompanied with nicotine replacement therapy and counseling. In addition, if they’re afraid of weight gain, you might counsel them that gaining a few pounds, probably temporarily, is well worth it in return for the lifetime health benefits gained from being smoke free.
Editor: What about on-line support for people who want to quit?
Koval: Our website, BecomeAnEX.org offers smokers a free plan to quit and provides them valuable information that will help. The website, which includes a robust online community of quitters, can also help them relearn life without smoking.
Editor: A final thought?
Koval: Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death. It’s a defective product, and 5.6 million children alive in this country today risk dying from tobacco-related disease. This is a tragedy I can’t accept.
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Women’s Health 2015: The 23rd Annual Congress
April 16-19 Grand Hyatt, Washington, DC
The most comprehensive, integrated women’s health conference of the year
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Journal of Women's Health, published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., is the Official Journal of the Academy of Women's Health. On the forefront of women’s health policy and research, the Journal delivers cutting-edge advancements and clinical applications of new diagnostic procedures, therapeutic protocols for the management of diseases, and innovative research in gender-based biology that impacts diagnosis and therapy. This peer-reviewed journal is published monthly and indexed in MEDLINE, Current Contents, and all key indexing services.