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Be inspired every day with Living North
Ailsa Rutter
March 2017
Reading time 5 minutes
Ailsa Rutter, Director of Newcastle-based Fresh, the UK’s first dedicated tobacco control programme, talks about our vices, the Marlboro Man, and receiving an OBE in the New Year Honours list

How did Fresh start?

The NHS and local councils across the North East recognised that in order to improve the health of our communities, more needed to be done to address the number one cause of premature death – which is smoking. So many people who smoke would love to be able to quit and we wanted to create a positive movement that wasn’t about wagging the finger.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I love working with so many dedicated colleagues who passionately believe in our efforts to make smoking history for more children growing up. The big drop in smoking here in the North East in the last decade has been so encouraging but we’ve still got a long way to go.

And the hardest?

When you see the terrible impact that smoking has on families. I have lost my own father and auntie to smoking and the impact of diseases like COPD is horrific. We hear so many stories from people who have lost their loved ones far too young to smoking.

Is vaping a good option for stopping smoking, or the least worst option?

It’s not the nicotine that kills people, but the 6,000-plus toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke. Vaping is estimated by Public Health England to be at least 95 percent safer than conventional cigarettes, but we’ve seen a lot of scare stories which are putting people off switching to a safer option. Thousands of people are using electronic cigarettes to try to smoking – we would recommend that if they’re trying to stop smoking they also visit the NHS’ Smoke Free website for advice including details about local services which can help.

What can television, books and films do to help people stop smoking – or stop them taking it up?

It would be good to see a more realistic portrayal of smoking rather than the sexy, glamorous images that are often shown. Smoking will kill one in two people who smoke over their lifetime, and it causes 16 types of cancer, heart disease, COPD and strokes. It knocks an average of 10 years off your life expectancy, but we rarely see this portrayed. I sometimes despair when I see role models to children and young people smoking on music videos.

Which single fictional figure has done the worst to glamourise smoking?

The Marlboro Man. This campaign ran for nearly 50 years. Five of the actors who’ve played the Marlboro Man have died from diseases linked to smoking.

Some people smoke to relieve tension. What do you do?

I have fun with my kids – playing with a toddler can be a barrel of laughs.

Where’s your favourite place in the region to eat?

I love Thai food, and Ko Sai in Fenwick food hall has been really impressive on each visit.

If you could ban one thing other than cigarettes entirely, what would it be?

Donald Trump from being US President!  

What annoys you the most?

Littering. We live in the most beautiful part of the country and the amount of rubbish people throw away is awful.

What cheers you up the most?

The view from the top of the hill from Bamburgh as you look out over Budle Bay. It’s also near a seat on Bamburgh Golf Course dedicated to my lovely dad – Stewart Rutter – who was a fantastic golfer and died far too young in 2001, from smoking-related COPD.

What was it like receiving an OBE in the New Year Honours list?

It was a lovely surprise. I feel exceptionally lucky to have a job I love and to work with many talented and dedicated people across the region and beyond.

If it’s not the OBE, what’s your greatest achievement to date?

I think juggling the highs and lows of being a mum to a teenager and a toddler.


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