A North East anti-smoking campaigner is the only person in the country to win a prestigious health award.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, has been awarded a World Health Organisation (WHO) World No Tobacco Day medal in recognition of her outstanding work in tackling smoking in the region.
And today, she has been praised by health leaders at home for her work.
Ms Rutter set up Fresh - the first regional tobacco control office in the UK - in the region in 2005, as well as providing guidance on the setting up of similar programmes in the North West and South West.
In the first five years of Fresh’s work, smoking rates in the North East fell at twice the national average.
Ms Rutter said: “When Fresh was set up in the North East the aim was to stop making headlines for being the worst area in the country for smoking related death and disease and do all we can to tackle our biggest killer.
“This is a tremendous honour, but it’s also credit to my committed colleagues at Fresh and many partners we work with, particularly within our 12 local authorities who have demonstrated exceptional leadership for many years around tobacco issues.
“Fresh has always been about much more than a small team or programme but about a real sense that addressing smoking is ‘everyone’s business’ and in the North East many people have worked tirelessly together since 2005 to help tackle what were very high smoking rates in the region.
“Although we have achieved a great deal, much more still needs to be done to make smoking history for our children. This is something that I believe the public expect us to do now and our work will not end until we have truly made smoking a thing of the past.”
Praise was showered on Ms Rutter by local leaders. Anna Lynch, chair of the North East Directors of Public Health Network, said: “I am absolutely delighted for Ailsa. This award is certainly well deserved.
“Ailsa and her small expert team have worked with the directors of public health and their tobacco leads over the last five years and helped us to collectively make a real difference to the people of the North East.”
Coun Paul Watson, chair of the Association of North East Councils, said: “Smoking affects the life chances of every child who grows up to smoke especially in some of our poorest wards. However, thanks to the work of Fresh and its partners the North East has shaken off its image as the worst area for smoking and now other regions look to us for ideas and inspiration.”
Coun Nick Forbes, chair of the North East Making Smoking History partnership, said: “Fresh and the North East approach of coming together to tackle the harm of smoking has gained not just national acclaim but international recognition. This award is a huge affirmation of the tireless work Ailsa Rutter has done.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH said: “Under Ailsa’s leadership, Fresh has had an unparalleled record of success in tackling smoking in the North East and this award is well deserved.”
Work undertaken by Fresh has been highlighted in both the Government’s current National Tobacco Plan - Healthy Lives, Healthy People - and the previous Government’s National Tobacco Strategy A Smokefree Future.
The programme has also won the Charles Cully Memorial Medal from the Irish Cancer Society and Gold Medal in the inaugural Chief Medical Officer’s Public Health Awards in 2009.