The restrictions on smoking in New York City — in combination with higher cigarette taxes, an aggressive anti-smoking advertising campaign, and free nicotine-replacement therapy — sparked a sharp decline in smoking. Three hundred thousand fewer New Yorkers are lighting up now than when Bloomberg took office in 2002. The impact on adolescents is especially impressive: tobacco use in teenagers has dropped more than 50 percent and is currently less than half the national average. Because most tobacco addiction takes hold at a young age, this triumph will deliver lasting benefits to New Yorkers. Even the mayor’s critics had to admit that the effect on nightlife and tourism was not as bad as they had hoped. And New York’s success inspired others. At the time of the ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, only one state and no countries had similar bans. Today, most states and more than a dozen countries have followed suit. (And the mayor’s not done with cigarettes yet.)
In a second initiative against heart disease, the world’s leading cause of death, New York City in 2006 became the first US jurisdiction to ban trans fats in restaurants. These artery-clogging substances were developed to make oils more solid, and they help retard development of a stale taste in processed foods. Because a third of Americans’ calories come from eating out, New York City residents had little control over their consumption of these unhealthy fats. Since the ban on trans fats in New York City, more than 50 national chains have eliminated trans fats in their recipes for items such as French fries, thus protecting not only New Yorkers, but fast-food patrons throughout the land. Since New York’s action, 13 US jurisdictions adopted similar laws, and consumption of trans fats in North America is estimated to have declined by half.
When New York City took steps to require restaurants to label the calorie content of food, legal challenges delayed the ordinance for a year, but New York eventually became the first city in the world to put this consumer-information policy in place. Similar measures were subsequently adopted in other jurisdictions, and if Senator Tom Harkin has his way, new legislation will spread this sensible practice nationwide.
As if cancer and heart disease— tobacco, trans fats, and excess calories— were not enough, Mike Bloomberg has taken aim at illegal handguns. In 2006, he co-founded an alliance of mayors to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals. The group has attracted more than 450 members from all over the country. You may wonder why such an initiative required political courage, but why else did it have to wait until Mike Bloomberg faced the facts and took action?
There is a recognizable pattern here: Mike Bloomberg goes where science-based evidence leads. He is rational, disciplined, and persistent. His actions are dominated by what is the right thing to do for health, not by who cares one way or the other. Where he can, as in going after illegal handguns, he finds ingenious solutions that bring people together. He is willing to go first, and he measures results. In government, as in business, his modus operandi is to find the best people and let them do their job. In the first month of his first term, the mayor called in the heads of all his agencies and told them: “It’s your agency. Don’t screw it up.” (Well, he may not have said “screw,” but you get the point, and this is, after all, a decorous event.)
Even before he became mayor, Michael Bloomberg established an enduring legacy in public health. Through generous and far-sighted philanthropy, marked again by a willingness to invest in the right thing for the right reasons, he left a leading educational institution — now known as the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health— more strongly positioned than ever to educate a new generation of public health leaders and find new solutions to long-standing health problems.
In recent years, Michael Bloomberg embarked on a major new initiative to curb tobacco use in 15 low- and middle-income countries where more than two-thirds of smokers reside. Bloomberg Philanthropies committed $375 million to this initiative. Mike Bloomberg enlisted global partners from the public and private sectors, international agencies, and non-government organizations, and last year inspired Bill Gates to add another $125 million to the effort. Effective tobacco control measures now newly reach almost 400 million people worldwide, an important step in the right direction attributable in part to the resources made available through the Bloomberg Initiative.
Michael Bloomberg also tackled another major, and underappreciated, threat to global health: the more than 1.2 million deaths that occur every year on the world’s roadways. A few years ago in Vietnam, for example, the per-passenger-mile rate of traffic fatalities was 10,000 times that of the United States. A Bloomberg-sponsored pilot project in Vietnam concentrates on getting motorcyclists to wear helmets, and serious injury and death in this group have declined by almost 20 percent.
Just last week, the mayor received an exceptional tribute for his work in global health. At the U2 concert in Giants Stadium, before a crowd of 85,000, Bono took a break in the program to acknowledge the mayor and thank him for his support of public health. It hardly gets better than that! Even though the Lasker Luncheon draws a much smaller and less rowdy audience — not to mention less talented entertainers — we want you to know, Mr. Mayor, that today’s recognition is no less heartfelt.
When it comes to advancing the public’s health, Mayor Bloomberg not only talks the talk and walks the walk — he blazes new trails that others can follow. Directly and indirectly, through public service and philanthropy, Michael Bloomberg’s leadership saves lives and preserves health. Please join me in congratulating the recipient of the 2009 Lasker Public Service Award, the mayor of New York City, The Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg.