Taking on Tobacco

A modest early initiative yielded results in the effort to reduce tobacco use and exposure. Little did we know we were on the verge of changing history.

This is one in a series of stories about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s landmark achievements, which continue to inspire us as we address future challenges.

Back in the early 1990s, the tobacco industry’s financial and political clout was regarded as too intimidating for some to challenge.

At the same time, then-Foundation President Steven Schroeder and our Board of Trustees were trying to craft a challenge to this large and influential industry, but the question was: How? And how could it be done in a way that did not place the Foundation and its assets in jeopardy.

The answer was to start small—which we did when we funded an initiative called STAT (Stop Teenage Addiction to Tobacco). Rather than taking a bigger, broader approach, we focused in on one manageable piece of the problem: underage smoking.

With our $1.2 million grant, STAT conducted the Four Community Project, a community-based initiative to curtail underage smoking by reducing both tobacco supply and demand.

STAT leaders deemed their effort a success, although the initiative flew below the radar. It was not until 1997 that a RWJF Grant Results report looked back on the effort and agreed: STAT made a difference.

It was a small start, but even we didn’t realize we had started to make history, but were on the road to changing it.

Learn more about our early tobacco efforts.