A TIRELESS campaigner has been given an international accolade for her nine years of raising awareness of the dangers of smoking.
Ailsa Rutter set up Fresh, the first regional tobacco control office in the UK in 2005.
Now she has been awarded a World Health Organisation World No Tobacco Day medal for her outstanding work.
The Association of North East Councils and chair of the North East Directors of Public Health network today praised Fresh and Ms Rutter for the award and work across the region.
When Ms Rutter became director of FRESH, the region had the highest smoking prevalence rate in England.
Since then, levels of smoking have fallen to a rate just above the national average and the region has one of the most successful quit smoking programmes in the country.
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.”
But she added: “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.”
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: “This award is a huge affirmation of the tireless work Ailsa Rutter has done. However, smoking and tobacco still take a terrible toll on North-East families and public services and a miniscule fraction is spent on prevention and we need to do more.”