In 2011, Rosemarie (Rosie) Henson, ED’79, created the Tobacco Free Campus Initiative to support the nation’s colleges and universities in adopting and implementing tobacco-free policies. Now, more than 1,100 U.S. campuses are smoke-free.

Henson recently came to Northeastern to provide guidance to university leaders on their proposed initiative on this highly charged health issue. The senior adviser to the assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that solving the tobacco problem is the single most important action we can take to eliminate sickness and death.

“Almost no one starts smoking after age 25, so the college years can be a critical turning point in choosing not to use tobacco. Prevention efforts must focus not only on children but also on young adults, making college and university campuses an important setting for tobacco prevention and cessation efforts,” says Henson.
In 2007, Henson’s tireless efforts earned her the prestigious Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Service for her many achievements in public health.

As director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health, she led the CDC’s successful tobacco-free campus initiative. And at the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, she implemented the nation’s first-ever breast and cervical cancer early-detection program.

Before that, Henson held several public-health leadership positions with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

But as a student, she came to Northeastern with her sights set on becoming a psychiatric social worker—until she took a course in community health.

“The professor felt I did so well that he encouraged me to continue my studies in public health,” she says, which led to master’s degrees in public health and social work from Columbia University.

Henson believes that colleges can be especially influential in promoting a culture of health and wellness among their students. “Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. We have a strong science base, and we know what to do to end the tobacco epidemic.”