A New Momentum: Bloomberg Initiative Targets Smoking Worldwide

This story was gathered from David Snyder's visit to CDC. David reports on CDC programs in action for the CDC Foundation.

Practicing dentistry in southern India may seem as far as you could get from global tobacco work at Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But it was that experience that put Dr. Samira Asma on a path toward learning more about the origins and prevention of disease and led her ultimately to CDC.

“I saw a lot of mouth lesions from people using tobacco. In fact, India is the mouth cancer capital of the world,” says Dr. Asma, Chief of CDC’s Global Tobacco Control Branch in the Office on Smoking and Health.

Her interest in tobacco control led to her involvement in CDC’s Global Tobacco Surveillance System (GTSS), which was launched in 1999. The goal of the program, established as a partnership between CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), was to engage countries in monitoring the tobacco epidemic which enables them to effectively design, implement and evaluate their national tobacco control policies and interventions. The primary target of that first program, Dr. Asma says, was children.

“We launched the first survey to monitor and track the impact of tobacco on youth,” she says. “We wanted a systematic way of monitoring youth tobacco use, so we developed a global standard protocol.”

With the protocol in place, the partners expanded GTSS from youth to school teachers and then to health professions students. But despite the progress made in monitoring the impact of tobacco on youth and some professions, it soon became clear that other important research needs were not being met.

“We realized we were lacking information on tobacco use in the general adult population,” Dr. Asma says. “The costs and methodology posed challenging for such surveys. And then came the Bloomberg Initiative.”

The Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use targets 15 high burden low and middle income countries that, together, account for approximately two-thirds of the world’s smokers. As a recipient of some of that funding, the CDC Foundation was quick to step in and offer CDC help in developing a standard global protocol for collecting data on tobacco use in these selected countries with a potential for scale up. It was welcome support, Dr. Asma says.

“The CDC Foundation is one of the important partners in this initiative,” she says. “CDC develops the strategy, and the CDC Foundation helps us achieve it.”

Despite the fact that some of the selected countries − among them Brazil, China and India − are among the world’s top tobacco producers, Dr. Asma says that these countries also recognized the importance of, tobacco-related health care costs not only counter balance but exceeds any profits they make from the sale of tobacco. Many, she notes, have looked to the some of the states in the United States such as New York and California as an example of how curbing tobacco consumption and changing norms can have a tremendous impact on a nation’s health, without disrupting its economy.

“The U.S. has demonstrated that it is possible to put some preventative measures in place where governments can still earn revenue but also prevent people from smoking,” Dr. Asma says. “Increasing taxes, smoke-free public places and health warnings are few example of a low-cost and evidence based strategies that have proven to be effective.”

As the impact of the Bloomberg Initiative begins to reverberate around the world, Dr. Asma believes that impetus is building for a global movement to reduce, and maybe one day eliminate, the impact of tobacco use on public health. Today it ranks as the number one preventable cause of death in the world.

“I think there is a movement, there is a momentum,” she says. “People want to breathe clean air.”

Watch Video: Dr. Samira Asma


As one of a number of partners in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, the CDC Foundation works with experts at CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) to implement the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS). GATS collects data on adult tobacco use and the effectiveness of tobacco control measures among adults in more than 15 countries. Data collected through GATS will help improve policies, interventions and public health messaging to reduce smoking in these countries.

Funding Partner:

Bloomberg Philanthropies

GATS Program Partners:

CDC, World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, RTI International

Bloomberg Initiative Partners:

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, World Lung Foundation Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

CDC Principal Investigator:

Samira Asma, D.D.S., M.P.H. Associate Director, Global Tobacco Control Branch, Office on Smoking and Health, CDC

Terri Heyns, MA, is the associate vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.