How would you characterize your presidency in terms of actions taken and decisions made?
Three issues were at the forefront during 2001-2002:
1) The continuing economic health of the Society was a concern. We addressed this primarily by reducing costs, by converting communications from regular mail to electronic as much as possible. Conversion of the newsletter to an electronic version is one example. We also moved to mid-year Board meetings via conference call rather than face-to-face, to save on travel costs. On the revenue side, Board members were encouraged to seek sources of external funding for SRNT functions, where possible. Gary Swan, for example, obtained American Legacy Foundation support for the NTR journal. A second example is the submission of a renewal of the NIH grant to support the annual meeting (see more below). We also attracted more exhibitors to the annual meeting, thanks partly to program chair Tom Eissenberg.
2) Increasing the diversity of membership, in terms of area of expertise and geographic location. I solicited from the Board the names of 50 top researchers in the field of nicotine and tobacco who were not members and sent them a personal letter plus journal copy and other materials. The goal was to improve representation in topic areas and increase the quality of annual meeting offerings. We also initiated exploration of holding the annual meeting outside North America, in recognition of the international basis of the Society. That culminated a year later with the decision to meet in Prague in 2005.
3) Transition of the annual meeting program from primarily plenary sessions to multi-“track” sessions. The rapid growth of the Society was accompanied by growth in meeting attendance and presentations. It was clear by 2001 that we had outgrown the old format. Tom Eissenberg, program chair for the 2002-2003 meetings, re-organized the entire program structure to enable more sessions but also to be more “user-friendly” by offering attendees sessions narrowly focused to specific topic areas. This actually reflected a shift in Society philosophy, away from its long-standing implicit emphasis on bringing together various disciplines within the same sessions and toward the increased sophistication and specialization of sessions necessary to push forward progress in specific areas. This shift was preferred by leading scientists, who attend the annual meeting to communicate to other experts and learn about the latest findings in their specific field, rather than to share their results to non-experts at a more general level.
Were there any notable movements or events (e.g., the tobacco settlement) that affected your presidency?
The most notable event was the Sept 11 (2001) terrorist attacks in the U.S. Aside from the general reactions everyone had, this incident affected SRNT specifically by impeding the SRNT-Europe meeting in Paris, held a week later. Many from North America could not get to the meeting. However, Jacques LeHouzec and Jean-Pierre Changeux, the hosts, did a great job presenting an outstanding conference.
More directly relevant to the nicotine and tobacco field was the change in the direction of the U.S. government in its stance during the Framework Convention Agreement talks. The cooperative attitude during the preceding “Clinton” years gave way to a more adversarial approach, complicating progress in arriving at a comprehensive and effective agreement to reduce tobacco use worldwide.
A second event was the resignation of Alan Leshner from NIDA, leading to questions as to how supportive NIDA would be of tobacco and nicotine research in the future.
Third was the untimely death of SRNT member John Slade, one of the world’s leading tobacco control experts.
How would you describe your presidency in terms of the overall growth and trajectory of SRNT?
Because I had to gather information on this for the conference renewal grant, I am confident in saying that the “trajectory” of membership and meeting attendance across all years from the mid-90s through 2002 was very linear. Thus, growth was strong and steady throughout the Society’s first 10 years, increasing around 20% per year.
What do you consider your most important contribution to SRNT?
I suppose the most concrete contribution was the successful submission of the competing renewal application for the NIH grant to support the annual meeting. Starting with Maxine Stitzer’s original submission, I described future directions for the meeting and elicited support from NCI, NHLBI, and CDC, in addition to NIDA’s support. This enabled a request for a greater level of support, which defrays the costs of members to attend the meeting and allows for greater offerings.
Second would be instituting steps to improve SRNT’s finances, some initiated by my predecessor, Bill Corrigall (described previously; e.g. shift to electronic communications).
Third, if you allow contributions prior to our presidential terms, was being program chair for the first annual meeting. Although that meeting seems embarrassingly meager, compared to the outstanding programs we now enjoy, I was relieved to be able to put together a program from scratch that helped attract over 220 attendees, almost double what we had expected. The enthusiastic reception the creation of SRNT received from the field was very gratifying for all of us involved in that first meeting.
In your opinion, what are the most notable developments in the field of nicotine and tobacco research over the past ten years?
1) Cracking the façade of “invincibility” presented by the tobacco industry for decades. The 1998 Master settlement and other regulatory or legal actions against the industry has galvanized the broader public health community to strengthen its efforts to reduce tobacco use. Related to this is the resulting change in public attitudes about smoking in general and the tobacco industry in particular, which has increased public support for indoor air restrictions, increased tobacco taxes, increased research on tobacco and nicotine, etc.
2) Development of clinical practice guidelines to standardize smoking cessation treatment delivery, although more thorough dissemination and adoption of these guidelines are needed.
3) Research findings in neuroscience and pharmacology, to better understand mechanisms of action of nicotine and develop potential new medications (although none has yet been approved, excluding bupropion). NIH support for nicotine and tobacco research is stronger now than 10 years ago, which augurs well for future discoveries in the field.