Dr Nigel Gray 1928 – 2014

In honouring the life’s work of Dr Nigel Gray, Distinguished Fellow in Cancer Prevention, we are proclaiming our regard for him as a relentless defender of public health. His life-goals and achievements serve as a model for all researchers, medical practitioners and scientists who, in possession of empowering qualifications and experience, can choose to make a stand against both industry and government for failing to address the negative impact on the health of people and the environment resulting from the uncontrolled manufacture and release of man-made toxics.

In December 2014, Australia lost Dr Nigel Gray AO (Order of Australia), a remarkable man whose lifelong and groundbreaking work laid the foundation for the implementation of the tobacco control measures across the globe today.

Through his dedicated life’s work; informing and protecting pubic health from risks associated with tobacco products; gaining legislated control of the tobacco industry Dr Gray was internationally recognized for his:

  • pioneering work as one of the first in the world to recognize tobacco as a major cause of cancer and other chronic diseases,
  • unstinting campaign against the powerful tobacco industry in order to obtain tobacco control measures, and
  • gaining of worldwide attention on tobacco as a serious risk to health.

After persuading key politicians in his home state of Victoria of the need for anti-smoking legislation, Dr Gray, with media and cross political party support, led the first public anti-smoking campaign in Australia in which he:

  • used powerful and entertaining anti-smoking advertisements,
  • promoted public education and advocacy initiatives, and
  • lobbied for health warnings on tobacco products.

In 1971, one anti-smoking TV advertisement featuring well known campaign supporters, such as UK actor/comedian Warren Mitchell, was banned by commercial TV stations with clients in the tobacco industry.

However, despite intense opposition from the tobacco industry and its allies, most forms of advertising of tobacco products were either banned or phased out, and taxing of tobacco products and producers was introduced in the state of Victoria in November 1987 following the passing of the Tobacco Act 1987.

This groundbreaking legislation has since been adopted throughout Australia and many other countries as a model of industry control measures and of standards in public health.

In 1989, the Australian Government passed the first-ever private member’s bill to ban print advertising of tobacco products, which in turn affected newspapers and magazines through loss of advertising revenue from tobacco companies.

In 1992, after decades of tireless lobbying by Dr Gray to close a loophole in the Australian Broadcasting Act 1942, which allowed telecasting of tobacco advertisements at sporting events sponsored by tobacco companies, the Keating (Labour) Government passed the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992, which phased out most remaining forms of tobacco advertising in Australia.

Both during and after the period of his directorship of Victoria’s Cancer Council (1968-1995), Dr Gray worked with a number of international organizations such as:

    The World Health Organization as a member of the Panel of Cancer Experts (1973-1990), working on the development of the first comprehensive policy changes aimed at attaining tobacco control on a global scale, and
    The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in France (1995-2005), from where he published evidence-based material on health risks from the constituents of tobacco smoke.

Ever in demand as a speaker at international tobacco control forums, Dr Gray continued working on tobacco control into his nineties. He is remembered by those who knew and worked with him as a man with great drive and integrity, a model ‘agent for change’ and a ‘fearless’ opponent of the tobacco industry, which regarded him as a significant threat to their business interests.

His legacy has been honoured through the Nigel Gray medal (for outstanding leadership in tobacco control).