Mon, Sep 16, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Newsmaker: David Yen remembered for his anti-tobacco fight

CRUSADE After smoking for almost 40 years and contracting emphysema, one man's legacy will be his battle to educate people about the dangers of tobacco

By Chang Yu-jung  /  STAFF REPORTER

David Yen, who died on Sept. 6, will be remembered as a two-pack a day smoker who turned into the nation's leading anti-smoking and anti-tobacco campaigner.


David Yen (嚴道), the renowned anti-tobacco warrior who devoted half his life to promoting public health, died Sept. 6 of coronary thrombosis at 82.

Yen was the founder and chairman of the John Tung Foundation (董氏基金會), the most influential anti-tobacco group in Taiwan. (Yen named the organization after his old friend, the comedian and actor John Tung, who donated US$2.5 million to the foundation.)

Yen's relentless devotion to the anti-tobacco movement won him the title of being the "Lin Tse-hsu [林則徐] of the modern world." Lin was a Ching dynasty official whose ban on the import of opium led to the Opium War over 160 years ago.

Yen was born to a well-off family in Shanghai in 1921. After graduating from Soochow University Law School in 1943, he was a research fellow in economics at the Imperial University of Kyoto from 1943 to 1944.

Yen then travelled to the US and obtained a doctorate from Indiana University's School of Law in 1949.

After finishing his studies, Yen immigrated to Brazil and started textile and flour businesses and opened restaurants. He also mastered six languages including Jap-anese, Spanish, Portuguese and English.

Yen settled in Taiwan in 1965 when he was hired to be the executive vice president of Yue Loong Motor.

Smoker turned crusader

Many people are surprised to learn that the head of the nation's most renowned anti-tobacco organization used to be chain smoker who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day.

According to Yen, he smoked for over 40 years, starting as an 11 year-old and continuing right up until his right lung had to be removed because of pulmonary emphysema when he was 52.

That illness not only prompted Yen to quit smoking, but also lead to the establishment of his foundation in 1984.

As part of the foundation's fight against tobacco, Yen enlisted former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) in the group's campaigns, personally persuaded government officials to quit smoking and launched an anti-tobacco movement in the Legislative Yuan.

In a bid to educate youngsters about the hazards of tobacco, Yen would lecture in schools, making over 500 appearances a year.

When the Taiwan was forced to open its market to foreign tobacco products and their related advertising in 1987, Yen lead his foundation and 21 other local non-governmental organizations to form the Anti-tobacco League of Taiwan to protest against the marketing and promotion of tobacco.

`He was optimistic'

"Yen was a person with great perseverance," said Judy Lin (林清麗), the foundation's head of tobacco control who has worked with the foundation for 17 years.

Recalling the difficulties the foundation encountered when initiating its anti-tobacco movement, Lin said, "some people called us fascists, others said that we only wanted to chop off smokers' heads."

"But Yen was always full of energy and hope," Lin said. " He was optimistic and encouraged us to keep on doing what we thought was right."

In addition to launching anti-tobacco campaigns in Taiwan, Yen and the foundation also promoted tobacco control in the international community.

In 1989, the foundation worked to win the cooperation of nearly 20 Asian nations to oppose international tobacco companies' efforts to expand their markets in Asia by establishing the Asia Pacific

Association for the Control of Tobacco (APACT).

"Yen was a very wise man with an international prospective," said Lin. "He told us the importance of forming alliances with other nations in dealing with tobacco giants because it was too tough for Taiwan to stand alone.

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