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TODAY news for Thursday, April 14, 2008

Loma Linda University news

MBA class paper becomes law in Rancho Cucamonga

Don Kurth, MD
Don Kurth, MD
Not many students can say that their school paper changed the law of the land, but Loma Linda University student Don Kurth, MD, can. As of March 7, 2008, Dr. Kurth’s tobacco control legislation recommendations became law in the City of Rancho Cucamonga.

In addition to being a student, Dr. Kurth is chief of addiction medicine at the Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center, and associate professor in both psychiatry and preventive medicine at LLU.

“Three years ago I stopped by the LLU School of Public Health to see if we had any classes available that would help me in writing research proposals—you know, grant writing classes,” explains Dr. Kurth. “Well, I ran into Dr. Eric Anderson, director of the new master’s in business administration program, and before I knew it I was enrolled to earn an MBA degree.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed all the classes—the professors are just great,” continues Dr. Kurth. “Before I knew it, I had completed my classes and all that was left was my field practicum with Dr. Jim Banta. I chose to do a research paper on tobacco control public policy in California.”

The paper became far more than an academic exercise, thanks to Dr. Kurth’s involvement in politics: he is also the mayor of the City of Rancho Cucamonga. He took his idea for tobacco control policy to the city council.

“The data is very compelling,” says Dr. Kurth. “Once I presented the results of the study to the rest of the council, the opposing arguments went up in smoke,” jokes the physician-mayor.

Dr. Kurth’s research involved collecting and tabulating the range of tobacco control legislation in more than 40 cities and counties throughout the state. According to Dr. Kurth, every year 420,000 Americans lose their lives due to smoking. That is eight times the number of American deaths in all 10 years of the Vietnam War. One American in six dies as a result of cigarette smoking. Yet, 46 million Americans continue to smoke and many more suffer daily environmental tobacco smoke exposure.

“The study showed that many cities were way ahead of Rancho Cucamonga,” says Dr. Kurth. “Most cities preclude smoking in parks or recreation areas. But many also forbid smoking in outdoor restaurants, sports stadiums, outdoor shopping areas, outdoor ticket lines, or entryways.

“The first phase of our tobacco control ordinance will eliminate smoking from all parks, recreation areas, and sports stadiums. We have several more phases to go. Some people make the case that smoking is a personal freedom. But, if you really think that addiction to tobacco is freedom, then perhaps we need to sit down and chat! The real issue, though, is the exposure of children and non-smoking adults to second-hand smoke. We all have a right to breathe clean air.”

Dr. Kurth stops just short of banning tobacco sales altogether. But, he dreams of Rancho Cucamonga becoming the first smoke-free city in the nation.

“Actually, I wish California could be the first smoke-free state,” says Dr. Kurth. “But, the state of California makes a lot of tax revenue from tobacco. Still, the state’s chronic budget crisis is no reason to put people’s lives at stake for the sake of a few dollars in tax revenue. Maybe someday we can move toward better public policies and a safer world for our children.

“I would love to challenge the mayors of Loma Linda, Grand Terrace, and Redlands to tighten up their tobacco control ordinances, as well,” says Dr. Kurth. “Why not have a friendly competition to see who can create the highest standards and the safest city? We have nothing to lose and our residents have everything to gain.”

People often ask Dr. Kurth why a physician would want to get involved in the bear pit of politics.

“I love practicing medicine,” explains Dr. Kurth. “But, sometimes I can do more good for more people by signing one bill than I could do by signing a thousand prescriptions.”

When asked what interested him in public service in the first place, Dr. Kurth replies, “Rudolf Virchow, the great German pathologist and statesman, has always been my hero. He used to say, ‘Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing more than medicine in larger scale.’

“In other words, helping people on a one-to-one basis is called medicine; when we do the same thing on a broad scale, we call it politics. Dr. Virchow helped people understand the risks and dangers of unclean drinking water and undercooked meat. We take these things for granted now, but in his time they were revolutionary concepts, just as tobacco control is today.”

You can read Dr. Kurth’s research paper in its entirety at  www.ranchonet.com/Writings/Smoking.htm.

Contributed Report

TODAY news for Thursday, April 14, 2008