World Church: leaders Reprioritize Tobacco Control ay Global Conference World Church: leaders Reprioritize Tobacco Control ay Global Conference
Adventist News Network

Delegates from Cambodia to California met on the campus of Columbia Union College and Washington Adventist Hospital from July 14 to 16 for a Global Tobacco Control Summit organized by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Their objective? To reprioritize flagging Adventist tobacco control efforts and to recapture the momentum of the early anti-smoking movement by renovating current stop-smoking programs. To what extent Adventist-pioneered programs such as Breathe Free and Quit Now should be revised, however, elicited much discussion among delegates.

Even though early Adventist health ministry initiatives bolstered the worldwide anti-smoking campaign, Summit delegates agreed Adventists have lately lost their edge, a reality they attributed to factors ranging from waning pastoral awareness of health issues to a lack of persistent lobbying for anti-smoking legislation.

Other delegates cited the need to overhaul Breathe Free and Quit Now to incorporate more pharmacological treatment options in concert with the behavioral modification methods championed by the Five-Day Plan drafted by Dr. Wayne McFarland and Pastor Elman Folkenberg in the early 1960s.

“This [was] a timely conference,” said Jonathan Duffy, director of health ministries for the Adventist church in the South Pacific region, “because the church needs to encompass what is scientifically proven and what is historically proven in its future stop-smoking programs.”

Dr. Harley Stanton, former director of the World Health Organization’s [WHO] regional office for the Western Pacific, agreed. “It would be folly not to harness the guidance and credibility of science,” he said, adding that “[this Summit] must not just be a revisitation of where we’ve been but of where we can go.”

While the majority of Summit delegates advocated to some extent the use of pharmaceuticals, many simultaneously expressed concern that an emphasis on medical treatment might override trust in God–a dynamic historically unique to Adventist stop-smoking initiatives.

In the end, most delegates agreed that both approaches were vital and echoed Duffy’s sentiments: “Faith is a crucial component,” he said. “But [to stop smoking] takes immense effort, and if pharmaceuticals can support that effort, all the better!”

Duffy also cautioned against what might be implied when a smoker’s efforts to quit fail or when he or she relapses. “To say that you haven’t got enough faith because you haven’t quit successfully is very difficult. Tobacco is a terribly addictive substance–comparable to cocaine and other hard drugs–and the church needs to have a reality check and realize what it takes to cure addiction: Christ-like kindness, compassion, and patience.” As delegates agreed, because tobacco is more than a mere bad habit–like say, a hankering for potato chips–it often takes more than a conscious decision to quit.

Dr. Peter Landless, associate director of health ministries for the worldwide Adventist church, applauded the open-mindedness of the delegates, and voiced a moderate opinion with regard to pharmacological treatment. Adventists should “look at the things science is bringing to the table,” he said, “and establish programs that include pharmaceuticals where available, safe, supervised, and evidence-based.”

While they maintained that the link between theology and health ministry is a hallmark of Adventist heritage, some delegates expressed concern that the church’s stop-smoking efforts are overly intended to wedge non-believers into the groove of church membership.

Rather than hosting stop-smoking programs only before evangelistic series, Dr. Allan Handysides, director of health ministries for the worldwide Adventist church, suggested that churches become community health hubs. “Would your community miss your church if it closed its doors?” he asked. “Our churches must be instruments of care and compassion.”

Dr. Elie Honore, health ministries director for the church’s Inter-American region, echoed Handysides’ sentiments. “Church-based ministries,” he said, “must be based on genuine Christ-like interest in people’s needs, not necessarily numbers.”

During breakout sessions on Sunday afternoon, Dr. Patricia Sosa and Dr. Vincent DeMarco of Faith United Against Tobacco, a non-profit interfaith coalition dedicated to reducing tobacco addiction and exposure–especially in children–emphasized the importance of lobbying policymakers to pass anti-smoking legislation, including ballot initiatives to raise the tax on tobacco.

“When faith leaders speak, people listen,” DeMarco said, citing successes and urging delegates to actively support the push in the United States to ratify the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, a historic tobacco control treaty already endorsed by 250 organizations representing over 90 countries worldwide, according to the WHO. “The FDA regulates macaroni & cheese and dog food, but not tobacco. It’s criminal!” DeMarco reiterated.

Also during Sunday’s breakout sessions, delegates addressed the drastic shift of tobacco addiction to developing countries where many indigenous peoples choose individually sold cigarettes over food and other necessities.

A recent WHO statistic projects that by the year 2020, 70 percent of deaths due to tobacco will be in developing countries. “I see it as a great challenge for us as a church and a miscarriage of our commission as Adventists if we don’t [stop] this problem,” said Dr. Stanton.

Landless aptly summarized the Summit as “a much-needed stimulus to involve all components of the world church in a new and enthusiastic mission.”

McFarland, who was honored at a Saturday evening banquet, added, “As times change, we’ve got to change with the times. We must use every means we have [to combat smoking].”