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Jonathan M. Samet, MD

Professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair

University of Southern California
Lung Cancer Expert Medical Advisory Panel, Scientific Advisory Panel, Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel

Professional Title: Distinguished Professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair
Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC
Director, USC Institute for Global Health
University of Southern California

Dr. Samet, a pulmonary physician and epidemiologist, is Distinguished Professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and Director of the USC Institute for Global Health.  Previously, he was chair of the Department of Epidemiology of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His career has centered on epidemiologic research on threats to public health and using research findings to support policies that protect population health. His research has addressed indoor and outdoor air pollution, smoking, radiation risks, cancer etiology and outcomes, and sleep.  He has been involved with numerous committees related to use of scientific evidence in characterizing risks and making decisions, including chairing the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee of the U.S. EPA and the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC). For three decades he has authored and edited the reports of the Surgeon General on smoking and health, including serving as Senior Scientific Editor for the 50th Anniversary 2014 report.  Dr. Samet received the 2004 Prince Mahidol Award for Global Health awarded by the King of Thailand, the Surgeon General’s Medallion in 1990 and 2006, the Edward Livingston Trudeau Medal from the American Thoracic Society/American Lung Association and the Luther L. Terry Award for Distinguished Career from the American Cancer Society.  He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

  • Read Q&A with Dr. Samet

    Area of Expertise
    Pulmonary Medicine, Epidemiology, and Public Health

    Tell us a little about the work you do.
    I carry out research on the lung health consequences of inhaled pollutants, in indoor and outdoor air, in workplaces, and from active and passive smoking.  I also engage in using the resulting evidence to find solutions through policy, regulatory, and other approaches.  At present, much of my effort is focused on evidence synthesis for policy formulation and enhancing the methods we use for that purpose.  I work on tobacco control, carrying out research through our Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) and supporting domestic and international tobacco control efforts.

    How did you become interested in pulmonary medicine?
    My interest in pulmonary medicine came from my long-standing interest in environmental pollution and its consequences, and through informative and inspirational patient interactions early in my career as I provided care for people with avoidable occupational and environmental lung disease.

    How has your field changed since you began your career?
    Over the now 40 years since I began training, the pulmonary medicine has changed greatly, embracing a broader suite of problems and having an ever-expanding scientific foundation. Of course, the problems addressed have changed over time and will continue to do so.

    What do you see as the most promising trend in pulmonary medicine?
    Our growing knowledge of the origins of lung disease.  I am hopeful that genomics and other new approaches will bring new approaches to identifying those at risk and preventing lung disease.

    What has been your greatest achievement?
    Carrying out research and engaging in policy activities that have made a difference over the span of my career.  For example, at the start of my career, tobacco smoking was ubiquitous in homes, and workplaces---including hospitals.  I was involved in early studies on secondhand smoke exposure and health and in developing key reports on the health consequences and the control of secondhand smoke exposure, such as the 1986 report of the Surgeon General.  Now, the beneficial consequences of research on secondhand smoke and the resulting smoking bans are evident—in the United States and globally.

    When did you first come in contact with the American Lung Association and why do you continue to stay involved?
    I began working with the ALA early in my career, initially on a project related to educating physicians about the health effects of air pollution.  The American Lung Association of New Mexico funded my first research project, a survey of respiratory health among Hispanics in Albuqerque. 

    How do healthy lungs change lives?
    The more telling question is how do diseased lungs change lives?  Often very badly, leaving people crippled and unable to join life.  I have a shared goal with the ALA of trying to reduce the number of people who suffer because of lung disease.

    Is there an inspiring personal or patient story you can share?
    Just to note that change can happen.  For example, I testified in 1987 before the House Subcommittee on Aviation on behalf of the Coalition on Smoking or Health (American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association) in support of an in-flight smoking ban.  Opponents claimed that smoking could not be prohibited; that passengers would not comply; and that pilots would be compromised.  Now, nearly three decades later, airplanes have long been smokefree and without the prophesized problems.

    Is there anything else you would like to share?
    The Lung Association should be acknowledged for its key national role in advocating for control of the factors that damage respiratory health:  air pollution, tobacco smoking, and workplace agents. 

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