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HomeATS CommunityPresident's Message ▶ An Ounce of Prevention: The American Thoracic Society’s Role in Public Health
An Ounce of Prevention: The American Thoracic Society’s Role in Public Health

One of the biggest myths in medicine is the idea that all we need are more medical breakthroughs and then all of our problems will be solved.”- Quyen Nguyen

Over the last two centuries, life expectancy more than doubled in the U.S. While most people attribute this to medical advances, the largest gain in life expectancy happened between 1880 and 1920, due to public healthatsnews-juanceledon1.jpg improvements such as control of infectious diseases, better nutrition, and cleaner drinking water. Sadly, the suffering and death toll inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the dire consequences of underfunding public health and ignoring public health measures.

Because respiratory diseases are caused or worsened by what we breathe, tobacco use, air pollution, occupational toxicants, and infectious agents disproportionately impact common respiratory diseases. Thus, reducing these exposures would greatly benefit society, reduce health care costs, and move us towards health equality.

E-cigarette consumption is a grave public health threat, as young e-cigarette users often become cigarette smokers. The ATS’s Tobacco Action Committee coordinates the society’s activities to end tobacco and e-cigarette use through federal regulation and research funding. Moreover, the ATS leadership meets annually with that of the Center for Tobacco Products to promote stronger measures to end tobacco use in the U.S.

With weather events such as hurricanes and wildfires happening more frequently and intensely, fighting climate change and its associated health consequences, along with advocating for clean air and occupational safety, all of which also impact public health, are high priorities for the ATS. The society’s Environmental Health Policy Committee (EHPC) monitors and evaluates the scientific rationale for, and proposes policies to control, air pollutants and occupational exposure to respiratory toxicants, as well as policies to mitigate the health impact of climate change. 

Members of the EHPC and our Environmental, Occupational, and Population Health (EOPH) Assembly have been pioneers at the forefront of climate change, air pollution, and occupational health research. In 2008, the ATS published  an editorial in our Blue Journal in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s  “endangerment finding,” a step toward allowing the EPA to regulate climate emissions. In the years since, the ATS has had several publications on climate change, most recently “Climate Change. A Global Threat to Cardiopulmonary Health.” Moreover, our experts have published extensively on air pollution, including one report showing that reducing outdoor concentrations of ozone and fine particulate matter to levels below those set by the U.S. EPA would likely save thousands of lives and result in far fewer serious illnesses and missed days of school and work each year. Similarly, ATS experts have consistently led workshop reports and statements on occupational respiratory diseases such as berylliosis and workplace-related asthma.

The ATS’s original purpose was to combat tuberculosis. Nowadays, our Pulmonary Infections and Tuberculosis (PITB) Assembly focuses on pulmonary infections, including COVID-19 and the longstanding worldwide scourges of TB and pneumonia. Expert members in our PITB Assembly lead our COVID-19 Vaccine Working Group and have published numerous workshop reports and guidelines on the prevention and treatment of pneumonia, TB, and other respiratory infections. Further, the ATS will soon launch an exciting new series of webinars on TB elimination in collaboration with the Union.

The ATS uses the scientific evidence generated or reviewed by our experts to speak truth to power while advocating for such public health policies in the U.S. (through our Washington Office) and worldwide (in conjunction with the Forum of International Respiratory Societies). To learn more about our advocacy for public health, visit and stay up to date with our Washington Letter. If you’d like to get involved, you can see our current top-priority issues and take action today!