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Welcome to this important conference on tobacco control. I am Dan Wolfson, president of The HMO Group, one of the sponsors of this conference. First, I should like to describe the framework for the conference, and then introduce our keynote speaker.
During this conference, presentations will include effective practices in primary care from health plans as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Health plans which link to community resources to improve primary care practices and conduct community education will also be described.
Several presenters will focus on the public health policy debate that will occur during this session of Congress. Although we work in primary care to prevent and help stop smoking, there is important evidence that legislation and the public policy arena are very important in tobacco control. In fact, Ken Warner, one of our presenters, conducted important research which showed that 87% of smokers start before the age of 21. Additionally, as you increase the cost of tobacco, smoking decreases. That is what the war against the tobacco industry is all about. Increase the cost of cigarettes, and smoking will decrease among young people. Require that the tobacco industry stop marketing to children, and addiction is prevented.
The tobacco industry is now on the run. Your involvement in tobacco control should include involvement in fighting for legislation. Write letters; you don’t have to lobby. This is community action. Join coalitions. Take up arms in this tobacco war. This war is just as important to the health of our communities as the discovery of polio and the discovery of antibiotics. This is an important public health issue and debate. There are heroes as in any war—organisations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; individuals like Tracy Orleans; people from the CDC such as Michael Eriksen; members of the American Cancer Society; and people from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. There are heroes among our ranks of health plans and health maintenance organisations, such as Tim McAfee from Group Health Cooperative, and Ron Davis from Health Alliance Plan, who will both be presenting papers.
Our keynote speaker, Phil Nudelman is also one of those heroes. He provided the leadership and vision to make tobacco control a number one priority in his organisation. He led extraordinary tobacco control programmes in the primary care setting and at the worksite. He encouraged and fostered involvement in community action at the state level to enact an excise tax in the state of Washington.
When he was contacted by The HMO Group and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to support [the United States] Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, he not only wrote to the FDA, but he also contacted 500 000 health plan members to encourage them to write to the FDA as well, to support the regulations.
Dr Nudelman is chairman and president of Kaiser Group Health, a new non-profit organisation, formed by Kaiser and Group Health Cooperative to oversee the operations of Kaiser Permanente in the northeast, Group Health Cooperative, and Group Health Northwest.
He serves on the White House Task Force on Health Care Reform, and on the President’s Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Healthcare Industry. Dr Nudelman is also the current chair-elect of the American Association of Health Plans (AAHP).