Roswell Park Cancer Institute to help reduce smoking in Hungary

Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) faculty members recently met with the Hungarian Health Minister and other government officials to discuss strategies to reduce smoking in Hungary.

Laszlo Mechtler, MD, Department of Neurology at RPCI and President of the Hungarian Medical Association of America, led the delegation. “With one in two tobacco users dying prematurely from tobacco use, we need to be more aggressive in our actions to address the tobacco problem in Hungary,” he said. Tamas Szekely, MD, Hungarian Minister of Health, added, “Hungary has high smoking rates and consequently high rates of lung cancer and heart disease that result from tobacco use.”

Hungary was among the first countries in the world to ratify the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which obligates governments to adopt and effectively implement a series of tobacco control polices that will rapidly reduce demand for tobacco. However, according to K. Michael Cummings, PhD, Director of RPCI's tobacco research program, “Hungary has lagged in its implementation of a comprehensive smoke-free law, such as the one adopted in New York State.”

In fact, Hungary's smokers include 30% of all its physicians – 12% of all pulmonologists – and even the nation's Minister of Health, Dr. Szekely. “How can the people of Hungary quit smoking when its intellectuals and healthcare leaders smoke?” asks Mechtler.

To kick-start Hungary's tobacco reduction program, RPCI faculty organized a two-day symposium, “The Tobacco Epidemic in Hungary,” which was held in August in Budapest. The symposium featured 71 lectures on topics ranging from tobacco's deleterious health effects to new treatments for tobacco addiction and ways to implement tobacco-control policies.

At the conference, two medical students from the Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary, presented a study which compared levels of indoor air pollution found in a sample of 42 public locations in Hungary where smoking was and was not observed. The results of the study, conducted in collaboration with RPCI researchers, revealed that the levels of indoor air pollution were nearly 20 times higher in places where smoking was observed compared to places where no smoking was observed. The students found that the level of fine particle air pollution exceeded safe air quality standards in 53% of the 26 locations where smoking was observed. As a result, Dr. Szekely said he would support strengthening Hungary's current law which still permits smoking in designated areas of restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

In addition, the conference also facilitated the creation of a new student exchange program between Roswell Park and four major Hungarian universities – Semmelweis University, University of Debrecen Medical School, University of Szeged and the Medical University of Pecs. The agreement allows RPCI and Hungarian universities to send students to one another's campuses for academic programs.

“Roswell Park has a long history of developing partnerships with academic institutions around the United States and the globe, which are designed to provide educational opportunities for the training of the next generation of cancer researchers,” said Judy Smith, MD, Medical Director at RPCI and participant in the Hungarian summit.

Arthur Michalek, PhD, Senior Vice President for Educational Affairs at Roswell Park added, “This new agreement ensures that the brightest, most creative young people have the opportunity to pursue a career in cancer research.”

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