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John Harvard's Journal

Gregory N. Connolly

March-April 2011

Gregory N. Connolly

Gregory N. Connolly

Photograph by Stu Rosner

Surprisingly, the director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at the Harvard School of Public Health was once a smoker himself. Working with emphysema patients at Boston’s Carney Hospital inspired him to quit. He has since taken up healthier hobbies--he and his wife, Susan, have a 70-acre farm in Vermont and, he says, “I could cut wood all day long”--but he’s devoted his career to freeing others from nicotine addiction. His work has taken him all over the world to advise countries on curbing smoking. Although that is his long-term goal, he admits that places like Greece and Armenia, with some of the globe’s highest smoking rates, are “nirvana” for researchers. (In Massachusetts, where only 14 percent of people report smoking daily, doing research “is really, really hard. We just don’t have the subjects.”) Connolly has led studies in settings from pubs (measuring airborne particles pre- and post-smoking ban) to playgrounds (using GPS data to show that tobacco companies were targeting children with billboards). He has lectured to Major League Baseball players about the dangers of smokeless tobacco--earning the nickname “Dr. Chew” from one team. He spent 17 years with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, overseeing a comprehensive tobacco-control campaign, including ads that became a national and international model, and leaving just before the state enacted its 2004 ban on smoking in public places. He soon ran afoul of the ban in his new role as professor of the practice of public health: to allow smoking in his lab, so he could study new theories of nicotine addiction, he recalls, “We were told, ‘You’re breaking state law.’ We had to get an exemption.”

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