Tom Farley ’77, aka Dr. Thomas A. Farley, M.D., M.P.H., Tulane, appointed New York City Health Commissioner by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on May 18, already has implemented an ambitious agenda—and, as one would expect, has no shortage of critics.
One of the legion of distance runners trained by Tom Donnelly, Farley remains “string-bean thin” and runs three miles or bikes every day, according to The New York Times in a recent profile. He clearly is applying the fitness lessons he learned in college to his new bully pulpit.
The Commissioner’s position was already a hot seat since predecessor Dr. Thomas Frieden, whom Farley served as senior advisor in 2007-08, led crusades to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, require restaurants to eliminate trans fats, and promote exercise. Frieden was named director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by President Obama.
With H1N1 flu to battle as schools open and winter approaches and the ongoing issues of preventing tuberculosis and STDs while dealing with HIV/AIDS in the city, one might think a new appointee would wait a bit before jumping back into and even expanding the causes Dr. Frieden took on. Not Tom!
Farley’s worried residents of the boroughs outside Manhattan put on the pounds since they don’t walk as much so he’s trying to create more bicycle lanes, open schoolyards for recreation and unlock stairwells so people can walk the stairs. He already has the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene working with bodegas to stock more fresh fruits and vegetables, The Times reported. Tom has supported a new city law requiring buildings with freight elevators to provide access for cyclists who ride to work. He’s campaigning against soda, using the slogan “Pouring on the Pounds,” and trying to enlist architects, non-profit groups and businesses to make the city more exercise-friendly.
By September 15, one website, vitals.com, was already headlining a story on Farley’s campaign to reduce smoking: “Has Farley Gone Too Far—Ban on Smoking in Parks and Beaches?”
Tom clearly doesn’t think so:
“We don’t think children, parents when they are standing at a soccer game should have to be breathing smoke from the person next to them. We don’t think our children should have to be watching someone smoke.”
Six years after smoking in just about every indoor area in New York City was prohibited, Farley notes that “Smoking is responsible for killing over 7,000 New Yorkers. We don’t think it’s too far to say that people shouldn’t be smoking in parks, and to try to protect our children from getting addicted to tobacco.”
Ending smoking in parks and at beaches in NYC won’t exactly be easy—there are 1700 parks and other recreational facilities and seven beaches, stretching a combined 14 miles.
Public health advocates are lining up in Farley’s corner and major tobacco manufacturers aren’t happy. Four years ago, Farley and a colleague wrote a book suggesting small changes in food prices and workplace bans on snacks. One review said the book had a “pervasive tone of puritanical disapproval” and that “Americans are unlikely to pay attention to this pair of scolds.”
So Farley knows he has a long race to run to achieve his goals of ending all smoking and making the fat fit. As any Haverfordian realizes, however, Ford runners are used to covering long distances. With three years to go, we suspect Tom will get pretty far despite the critics.
—Greg Kannerstein ‘63