Philadelphia, Pa., November 10, 2009 — In recognition of her outstanding contributions to public health through science-based advocacy, Debra Kelley, MS, is receiving APHA's 2009 David P. Rall Award for Advocacy in Public Health.
Kelley is senior director of advocacy and strategic health initiatives for the American Lung Association of California’s San Diego office. For the past two decades, she has been “one of a handful of the most important and influential women working on tobacco control issues in the state of California,” said April Roeseler of the California Department of Health’s Tobacco Control Program.
For example, in the early 1990s Kelley worked to establish clean indoor air workplace laws in the San Diego communities of Solana Beach and Del Mar. When those local ordinances as well as other local and state laws protecting the public’s health were in jeopardy from the Philip Morris-sponsored referendum known as Proposition 188, Kelley coordinated the San Diego “No on Proposition 188” campaign. She then single-handedly took on the San Diego Attorney General’s Office, the San Diego Police Department and the County Health and Human Services Agency to move them to take action on enforcing California’s smoke-free bar law.
In 1996, Kelley’s connections in the community and savvy media relations were instrumental in identifying and exposing a proposed $1 million contribution by Philip Morris to the San Diego Museum of Art. She mobilized public demonstrations and was able to attract tremendous local, statewide and national media coverage, including stories by the Wall Street Journal, MTV and CNN Business. The museum subsequently turned down the Philip Morris contribution. She also helped identify a proposed $175,000 Marlboro sponsorship of the Latino Days and Latino Music Festival at the 1996 Del Mar Fair and continues to shed light on the tobacco industry’s efforts at event sponsorship and philanthropy as marketing tools. She helped lead the way for smoke-free, family-oriented parks, beaches, amusement parks and outdoor dining throughout the San Diego community. Among her current efforts, Kelley is educating housing authorities and community leaders about the importance of establishing policies for smoke-free outdoor common areas and contiguous units in multi-unit housing complexes.
Her work with the American Lung Association has included being awarded a three-year, $450,000 grant from the California Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Control Section to implement a project reaching Latinos in the South Bay area. She launched SmokeFreeSanDiego.org, a user-friendly, online connection to the policy and community resources linked to San Diego’s smoke-free movement, and has spoken on tobacco control issues at dozens of conferences.
Among her many awards, Kelley was named Health Care Communicator of the Year by Health Care Communicators, profiled as a community leader by the San Diego Union Tribune, presented an Excellence Award in Advocacy from the American Lung Association and honored with an Advocate of the Decade Award by the South Coast Collective.
She is a certified health education specialist and is involved in many community organizations, including Blues San Diego, Kids Involuntarily Inhaling Secondhand Smoke and the San Diego State University Research Foundation’s board of directors.
California is the only state to experience a statistically significant decline in lung cancer deaths among women from 1975–2003.
“This result is attributed to California’s long-standing comprehensive tobacco control program. Yet in fact it is the cumulative impact of people like Debra Kelley who never shied away from tackling tough issues such as tobacco industry sponsorship, enforcement of clean indoor air laws, licensing tobacco retailers or drifting toxic cigarette smoke between apartments that is responsible for educing lung cancer deaths among women in California,” Roeseler said. “This is a huge public health achievement. Dana Kelley’s work epitomizes the best in community-based tobacco control advocacy work to advance the health of Californians and visitors to San Diego.”