Obituaries: Vale tobacco control leaders Nigel Gray and Anthony (Tony) Hedley

The international tobacco control community lost two of its leading figures in late 2014: Dr Nigel Gray (Australia) and Professor Tony Hedley (UK/Hong Kong). Both made an enormous contribution to public health through a combination of robust scientific evidence and persuasive advocacy. 

Nigel Gray, 12 September 1928-20 December 2014
A decade after the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) entered into force, it is hard to imagine tobacco advertising bans, confronting anti smoking advertisements and sustained global tobacco control policy action were once nothing more than radical ideas. Dr Nigel Gray, who died on 20 December 2014, was a pioneer in turning these ideas into reality, against fierce resistance from the powerful tobacco industry.

Dr Gray was pivotal in the campaign for the Victorian Tobacco Act 1987, groundbreaking legislation in the Australian state of Victoria which banned outdoor advertising of tobacco products and established the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (now VicHealth) from hypothecated tobacco taxes. The VicHealth model has since been adopted elsewhere in Australia and internationally.

He was instrumental in introducing forceful anti smoking advertisements, health warnings and the establishment of behavioural research to inform tobacco control campaigns, as well as a generous mentor to many leading figures in international tobacco control and public health advocacy. According to former CEO of the Cancer Council Victoria, and past President of the UICC, Professor David Hill, “His commitment to research and action, his extraordinary mix of establishment persona and radical thinker and his ability to bring out the best in those working with him has created a blueprint for creating change that will be used for many decades to come.”

Internationally, Dr Gray was a leader in developing comprehensive policy approaches to tobacco control with the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC, of which he was president from 1990-1994), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international health groups. In a tribute statement, WHO stated: “To those of us who worked closely with him, we saw a role model and mentor who was always humble, approachable, and never acted as if he was above anybody else even though he was light years ahead of us in his global vision.”

His legacy will continue to be felt in the global tobacco control movement, through the personal influence he had on many tobacco control leaders, as well as the two awards established in his name: the Nigel Gray medal (for outstanding leadership in tobacco control) and the Nigel Gray Distinguished Fellow in Cancer Prevention.

Read more:

Paying tribute to Dr Nigel Gray, a pioneer of global tobacco control

Cancer Council Victoria statement

Cancer Council Victoria – leave a tribute

The Age – obituary

Anthony Johnson Hedley, 8 April 1941-19 December 2014
Tribute by David Simpson, International Agency on Tobacco and Health

Professor Anthony (Tony) Hedley mentored, recruited and led for many years the team of researchers who laid the scientific foundation for tobacco control in Hong Kong, including epidemiology of harm from active and second hand smoke and research on tobacco promotion, taxation, economics, and smoking cessation.

After medical training and successive appointments in the UK, including as Professor of Public Health in Glasgow, Tony became Chair Professor of Community Medicine at Hong Kong University (HKU) in 1988. He recalled feeling that this was where he now wanted to be, no doubt appreciating the potential of a then relatively small department in a renowned medical school in such a unique, dynamic city state. From the outset, he was aware of Hong Kong’s exemplar role and responsibility to the rest of the region.

In little more than 25 years the department of around half a dozen became the School of Public Health, with some 300 staff, working on a wide variety of research and teaching. Tony inspired and led pioneering work on air quality, a major public health issue in Hong Kong (he is commemorated in the Hedley Environmental Index) and health service research, in addition to tobacco-related research and advocacy. The most striking feature of his tobacco publications is their relevance to policy. A study of non-smoking catering workers, for example, clearly showed an inverse exposure-response relationship between lung function and workplace SHS levels quantified by both indoor fine particulate concentrations and urinary cotinine levels. It also demonstrated that a 30-month exemption of some premises from smoke-free legislation in 2006 was directly responsible for impairment of workers’ health, providing powerful ammunition against pressure to relax the legislation.

While the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, which Tony chaired from 1997 to 2002, handled ongoing public information work, Tony insisted that he and his colleagues were also directly involved in advocacy, educating government officials, politicians, the media and the public. An astute industry watcher, he was the first to blow the whistle on some of the most notorious industry scientific frauds regarding misinformation about SHS, revealed in part by detailed involvement in air quality research.

After official retirement in 2012, having accumulated numerous honours, Tony returned to the UK with his wife Sarah McGhee. Last December, HKU’s Public Health Forum 2014 was entitled The Role of the Generalist in Public Health – a Tribute to Professor Anthony J Hedley. Already in failing health from a rare form of pancreatic cancer, he nevertheless made the return journey to Hong Kong thanks to help from friends and colleagues, attending and contributing to every session (see here for highlights). He said afterwards how fortunate he felt to receive such special recognition of his career. Hong Kong, Asia and the world are highly fortunate to have benefitted from Tony Hedley’s life and work.

Read more:

Anthony Hedley was a true hero of community health

South China Morning Post tribute to Anthony Hedley

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