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Tribute to a health advocate

By Jeffrey Barg

When E. Ruth Ever came to Philadelphia five years ago and began working in youth-oriented tobacco prevention there was much work to be done.

  • Youth smoking rates were on the rise and teens were starting to smoke at younger ages.
  • Young people were bombarded with messages inducing them to use tobacco including ads on mass transit and tobacco-sponsorship of an annual women’s tennis tournament in Philadelphia.
  • Eighty-five percent of tobacco retailers were illegally selling tobacco products to minors with absolute impunity.
  • Philadelphia’s public pension funds were heavily invested in tobacco stocks.

Now, as she prepares to leave Philadelphia, the landscape is much improved.

  • The SEPTA board has voted unanimously to no longer accept tobacco and alcohol ads on their buses, trains and stations.
  • Philadelphia City Council voted unanimously to divest the tobacco stock holdings in their public pension funds.
  • There is no longer tobacco-sponsorship of an annual women’s tennis tournament in Philadelphia.
  • A strong law to curb youth access to tobacco has been passed by Philadelphia City Council and effectively enforced by the Department of Licenses and Inspection decreasing illegal sales by almost 50 percent.

Of course, Ever is not solely responsible for these changes, but she was the one working day in day out on these issues gradually building the critical mass to bring them to a successful resolution.

As director of the Tobacco Prevention Program of the Health Promotion Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania (HPC), she built a top notch and diverse staff , who together have personally reached thousands of school children in southeastern PA with their hip pro-health message. They have given many teens invaluable experience as pro-health advocates talking to the press, talking to their peers, talking to legislators—and experience helping to enforce Philadelphia’s law against selling tobacco products to minors.

As coordinator of the Tobacco-free Education and Action Coalition for Health (TEACH), a major part of her job at HPC, she built a broad and vital coalition of over 100 organizations throughout southeastern PA concerned about the pediatric disease of tobacco use. I have been privileged to work closely with Ever on this coalition and have marveled at how the coalition has grown to resemble the strength and vitality of its coordinator. Each meeting I turn to Ever to find out who the new people are. Typically, they come from an organization that she has assisted in their tobacco prevention activities and thereby interested them in broader initiatives.

She will be missed by many people, including myself, on both a personal and professional level. But her good works will leave a lasting impression on the many people she has touched. And she will leave the Philadelphia area a better place than it was before she came.

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