Rheinholt Niebuhr, a famous theologian once said,  “Anything worth doing takes more than a lifetime.”

Dr. Lester Hartman of Westwood-Mansfield Pediatrics

Let us not underestimate the power of our voices in our communities and the far-reaching effects of social media.

In 2011 after our 2nd Westwood-Mansfield Pediatrics office was running smoothly and I had worked in Cambodia for 10 years and Haiti for 8 years, I asked my partners (after my 25th year in practice) if I could take a sabbatical for a year and attend the Harvard School of Public Health to attain an MPH. With their generous blessing they granted me the year. Off I went to the hardest and most wonderful academic year of my life when I became inspired by Dr. Judy Palfrey and Dr. Greg Connelly in tobacco control. Tobacco-related diseases were the leading cause of preventable, bar none, in the U.S. and the world and had pervaded all socioeconomic classes.

Oddly enough, after completing my MPH, I discovered that my own town, Needham, was the first in the U.S. and possibly the world to have raised the minimum legal sales age of tobacco to 21 years-old thanks to the hard work of PPOC and Needham Pediatrics doctor Alan Stern, M.D.  I picked up the banner and started to work with Harvard Pediatrics Professor Dr. Jonathan Winickoff.

Over the next 7 years I attended approximately 170 Board of Health meetings working with the DPH to successfully help Massachusetts become the 6th state in the U.S. to increase the tobacco purchase age to 21. After the summer of 2018, we turned our sites to banning flavors of tobacco in collaboration with Tobacco Free Kids and the American Cancer Society—even taking direct meetings with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. I attended about 25 Board of Health meetings and lectured 20 schools’ kids and parents on the dangers of JUULing—sometimes to audiences of 400 high schoolers (who were frankly the most fun and funniest to engage).

Working with Westwood-Mansfield Pediatrics’ social media specialist, Patrick, we launched an awareness campaign about vaping and sent out 9,000 emails to parents in an attempt to quash the growing vaping epidemic. Parents were enormously appreciative and got the message out to other families, which in turn marketed our practice as well. We were successful the first day after asking parents to call House Speaker DeLeo’s office when we found out he received over 140 phone calls. We then expanded our advocacy efforts to middle and high school principals, faith-based organizations, and Parent-Teacher Organizations. I even spoke at the AAP meeting in New Orleans in 2019 along with two other PPOC members- Dr. Jason Reynolds of Wareham Pediatrics and Dr. Fred Kern of Bridgewater Pediatrics.

In December 2019, Governor Charlie Baker signed the most comprehensive bill in the U.S. to ban vaping. Now at least 10 more states are working on a ban. We continue to help support them by reminding them not to exclude mint or menthol. Going back to school and plugging away at this advocacy work has been the most wonderful experience of my career as a pediatrician. I want to thank my partners who allow me 1 day per week to dedicate to my public health and innovation work.