School of Public Health recognizes former dean Ken Warner at symposium

Monday, October 10, 2016 - 3:40pm

The University of Michigan School of Public Health held a day-long symposium Monday honoring former dean Ken Warner’s work on tobacco control and population health.

About 850 people were in attendance at the biennial event, which in addition to honoring Warner — who is set to retire next May — also encouraged dialogue surrounding other contemporary issues in public health, improving relations between communities about these issues and the future of both public and environmental health. The event is one of many slated to mark the School of Public Health’s 75th anniversary this school year.

Both University Provost Martha Pollack and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) attended the event, and all classes in the School of Public Health were canceled in hopes that students would attend.

Cliff Douglas, adjunct professor at the School of Public Health and director of the American Cancer Society Center for Tobacco Control, discussed a number of Warner’s accomplishments before introducing him to speak. He emphasized that Warner has taught a number of courses in public health policy, tobacco policy and economics of disease prevention and has altered public perceptions of tobacco use worldwide through consulting for various public health boards.

“Ken Warner has been a tenacious campaigner for public health,” Douglas said. “He has left the type of humanitarian record that we can all aspire to.”

Following Douglas, Warner took the stage to discuss the modern history of tobacco use and the global smoking epidemic.

“Smoking remains today our nation’s, and the world’s, leading cause of preventable mortality,” Warner said.

He said individuals who smoke smoke an average 18 cigarettes today — each of which contain over 7,000 chemicals harmful to the body. For these reasons, Warner said he has dedicated his life to policy changes and altering public perceptions and misconceptions about smoking.

He also emphasized the role of tobacco control as a collective effort to reduce the toll of tobacco use and eliminate health disparities among races and socioeconomic classes. Control-oriented policies include preventing kids from starting, helping adults to quit and protecting nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke.

“As the surgeon general told us not very long ago, it is smoking — the inhalation of the products of tobacco consumption — that is the problem in tobacco, and we need to keep our eyes focused on the prize,” Warner said. “I say that tobacco control is the United States’ most important contribution to public health in the past half-century. It’s our greatest success story.”

Later in the day, the event moved from Rackham to the School of Public Health, where a number of luncheon panels and forum discussions took place. These discussions were dedicated to a variety of public health concerns including epidemiology, big data and health in a changing environment. The panels consisted of faculty members from all disciplines both at the University and other institutions.

Public Health student Anita Nsubuga said she attended the symposium due to her interest in global health. She called Warner’s speech enlightening and said she thought the panel she attended, “Changing World, Changing Epidemiology,” was a good avenue for students to explore the topic further.

“I really hope people got an understanding of how complicated the global health arena really is — there’s more than just the disease, there’s the social element, there’s the disparities, there’s a whole hierarchy of different mechanisms at hand,” Nsubuga said.

Public Health student Stuart Hammond said he thought the symposium was effective in having a variety of speakers, not just faculty members, adding that many of the topics were related to his multidisciplinary interests. As well, he said that the symposium addressed a need for future epidemiological action in health crises.

“It’s both that you have this great need for epidemiology, where we had to demonstrate that smoking was a problem and all the diseases it was causing and being associated with and its effects on people’s health through things like secondhand smoke, but then you had to move and translate that work from epidemiology into policy changes,” he said.