NORTH-EAST football clubs may not be very good at winning things but one regional organisation may soon have to invest in a larger trophy cupboard after its leader won a global award.
While it may not be the World Cup, Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, the North-East tobacco control office, is entitled to celebrate after becoming the only Briton to be awarded a World No Tobacco Day award by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Awarded by the Geneva-based agency of the United Nations in recognition of outstanding work in tackling smoking in the North-East of England, this latest honour - to mark World No Tobacco Day on May 31 - follows the Charles Cully Memorial Medal from the Irish Cancer Society and gold medal at the inaugural Chief Medical Officer’s Public Health Awards in 2009.
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Just last week Fresh’s ‘Don’t be the 1’ advertising campaign urging people to give up smoking was also awarded the Grand Prix award at the national UK Roses Creative Awards.
Two sets of statistics underline the impact Ailsa Rutter and her team have had on the region since Fresh was set up in 2005.
In that year adult smoking rates in the North-East stood at 29 per cent compared to 24 per cent in England.
In 2011, after six years of campaigning, the percentage of smokers had dropped to 20 per cent in the North-East, only fractionally higher than the 19 per cent figure recorded for the whole of England.
It means that since Fresh was set up, initially funded by the NHS but now bankrolled by the 12 North-East local authorities, roughly one in three North-East smokers have quit.
The WHO award caps an impressive career for Ailsa Rutter, who grew up in the Northumberland village of Seahouses before qualifying as a nurse and moving to Australia.
It was while she was working with heart patients in Australia that she became convinced that more needed to be done to prevent the kind of smoking-related diseases which were killing her patients.
After completing a master’s degree in public health she landed the job as manager of the Queensland Quit Campaign, a major public health initiative.
Her job was going well when her father, Stewart, was diagnosed with a serious smoking related chest disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Ailsa immediately came home and managed to find a job as manager of Gateshead and South Tyneside Stop Smoking Services.
Sadly, her father, who had been a smoker since he was 14, died in hospital just before Christmas 2001, aged just 61.
This reinforced Ailsa’s determination to try to do something to protect future generations from taking up smoking.
Apart from setting up Fresh – which was the first regional tobacco control office in the UK – Ailsa has also proved guidance on the setting up of similar programmes in the North-West and South-West .
The first to congratulate Ailsa and her team was Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the health charity ASH , who said: “Under Ailsa’s leadership, Fresh has had an unparalleled record of success in tackling smoking in the North-East and this has been successfully followed elsewhere. But there is more to be done, every region deserves, and needs, a Fresh of its own if we are to create a smokefree future for our children.”
Anna Lynch, director of public health for County Durham and chair of the North-East Directors of Public Health Network said: “I am absolutely delighted for Ailsa. This award is certainly well deserved and could not be given to a more passionate and committed person
Councillor Paul Watson, chair of the Association of North East Councils, said: “Thanks to the work of Fresh and its partners the North-East has shaken off its image as the worst area for smoking and now other regions look to us for ideas and inspiration.”
Ailsa said the WHO medal was “a tremendous honour” but stressed there was still much to do.
“Although we have achieved a great deal, much more still needs to be done to make smoking history for our chidren. This is something that I believe the public expect us to do now and our work will not end until we have truly made smoking a thing of the past.”