Philippe Boucher's Rendez-vous with . . . Susan Magazine

Rendez-vous with . . . Susan Magazine

Editor of TobaccoTalk
Vancouver, Washington State, USA

By Philippe Boucher

Rendez-vous 112

Friday, September 21 2001

PB : Thank you Susan for accepting our rendez-vous.
May I ask you to introduce yourself ?

Susan Magazine: I formally began my commitment to tobacco prevention and control in 1982 with the American Cancer Society, California Division, Tobacco and Cancer Department. Prior to that, I had been simply a reformed smoker and staunch anti-tobacco activist. My original charge was to design, develop and maintain a computer-based information system for identification, storage and retrieval of tobacco-related information and data. Thus, began my "love affair" with information. My priorities were then, and continue to be, the necessity of changing the social norms, largely through local, state, and national legislation. My efforts in the early and mid 1980's involved assisting local ACS units take the lead in their communities in developing local coalitions working toward the passage of tobacco control ordinances, primarily to limit smoking in public places and establish non-smoking sections in restaurants. It was then a natural progression for me to move into the Coalition For a Healthy California and manage the passage of Proposition 99, the tobacco tax initiative, in Northern California. A family move to southwest Washington later enabled me to become involved in Project ASSIST (American Stop Smoking Intervention Study For Cancer Control), where I remained for its eight-year duration. It was during this time that I recognized the need for generating tobacco-related information to the huge cadre of volunteers across the state and began writing and distributing a twice-monthly newsletter of encapsulated and updated information and data. TobaccoTalk, published on the 1st and 15th of each month, is now in its eighth year.

Q1. Can you explain the information service you provide, since when, to whom, in what conditions?

SM: My initial goal was to assist in building a knowledge base within our volunteer community with concise information provided in an easy to digest format. In the early 1990's, there was limited tobacco-related information and even less tobacco-related research and studies. It was often difficult to fill a two-page newsletter with current information. That, of course, has not been the case for several years. The challenge has been the need for selectivity and brevity. During the six years that TobaccoTalk was funded through Project ASSIST under the auspices of the Washington State Department of Health, it was mailed directly to volunteers within Washington state and some in other states as well who learned of it through word-of-mouth. In its more recent incarnation, it has been funded through subscriptions and is published electronically as a printable PDF file, complete with citations and links.

Q2. You mentioned that you thought there was a high staff turnover in the services in charge of tobacco control within local health departments. Can you elaborate on this?

SM: During my eight-year tenure with Project ASSIST in Washington state, I saw a very high level of turnover across the country in state health departments and understood the value of training and the generation of information. When I left government two years ago, I developed a list of 1200 potential subscribers within the tobacco control community and today little more than 400 are still involved in the "fight". I, personally, can attest to a high level of frustration and burnout in the tobacco control arena. Unfortunately, those staff changes diminish the level and continuity of the commitment within states and local jurisdictions.

Q3. I was surprised to notice that many tobacco control people in the US did not know about Globalink. How do you assess the use of the internet by the tobacco control community? Could it be that there is a relatively small minority of intensive users and a majority of light or ultra-light users?

SM: I, myself, was not aware of the existence of Globalink during my years with Project ASSIST. It wasn't until the demise of SCARCNet that I began to actively search for an alternate resource for tobacco-related information. Globalink has introduced me to a truly global view of the issue, injecting some possible hope for change in the face of a pro-tobacco U.S. administration. It is also important to remember that the tobacco control community within government was not provided access to the internet until fairly recently - within the last six years or so. I often heard the complaint that "there aren't enough hours in the day to do this job, let alone search the internet". I would concur that there are a relatively small minority of intensive users.

Q4. If a lot of people don't use the net that much, don't you think there is still a need for paper based information about tobacco control?

SM: I certainly do. It was because most people don't seem to have the interest or the time to use the various resources available on the internet and elsewhere that I created TobaccoTalk. It is designed to save the reader time spent searching and researching. There is actually too much information available for those untrained in searching to find all they need in a reasonable amount of time. In order to gather sufficient information for each issue, I spend hours each day doing just that. I must add, however, that readership dropped appreciably when we switched from paper to electronic publishing. That would reinforce the fact that there are many within tobacco control who are simply not comfortable with computers.

Q5. What do you consider as priorities to improve information management for the tobacco control community?

SM: I believe the first priority is an acknowledgement that information management and the proliferation of various information resources within the tobacco control community is a priority. As such, it must be encouraged and resources must be dedicated to it. Without a combination of training, awareness of tobacco control history, and updated information available to everyone in their preferred format, each state and local jurisdiction is working in a vacuum.

Q6. Is there anything else you would like to add?

SM: I would like to thank you for providing me an opportunity and a forum to express my concerns about the current attitude towards information related to tobacco prevention and control. At a time in the history of our issue when there is too much information being generated and too little time to keep abreast of it, there is a reluctance to identify resources to be more efficient in its dissemination.

PB: Thank you Susan for taking the time to be with us today.

Rendez-vous is supported by a contract from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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2001 Philippe Boucher, Tobacco BBS (212-982-4645). WebPage:
This document's URL is:

Return To: Philippe Boucher's Rendez-Vous Page

Go To: Tobacco BBS HomePage / Resources Page / Health Page / Documents Page / Culture Page / Activism Page

  • 2000 Philippe Boucher, Tobacco BBS (212-982-4645). WebPage:

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