Antonia Novello: First Woman and Hispanic Surgeon General
On March 9, 1990, President George H. W. Bush appointed Antonia Coello Novello, M.D., to be surgeon general of the United States. With this appointment Novello achieved the honor of two historic firsts: the first woman, and the first Hispanic, surgeon general. She served with distinction until June 30, 1993.
While surgeon general, Novello, a pediatrician, worked hard to improve the health of women, children and minorities. Her primary emphasis with children was on preventing smoking, drinking, drug abuse, and AIDS. She also focused on immunization campaigns and injury prevention. She became a fierce critic of the tobacco industry, accusing them of specifically targeting minors with such advertising campaigns as “Joe Camel.”
The following four newspaper articles are about Novello and her career as surgeon general. The first article reports on her appointment, and the second article profiles her and some family members. The other two articles discuss some of the health campaigns she undertook, including her first major address on smoking.
This copyrighted article was published by the Times (Trenton, New Jersey) on March 10, 1990:
Surgeon General Sworn In
Washington (AP)—Dr. Antonia Novello was sworn in yesterday as the nation’s surgeon general, and President Bush made it clear he expects no letup in the anti-smoking and anti-drug abuse crusades of her predecessors.
In a brief White House ceremony, Bush saluted both the new appointee and Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, himself a fervent critic of tobacco use.
“My respect and appreciation of my good friend Lou Sullivan grows every day as he fights for the good health of our people,” Bush said. “In the few minutes we’ve been here, 11 people have died from smoking, 390,000 people each year.”
Novello declared her motto would be “good science and good sense,” and thanked President Bush for an appointment she said should be an inspiration to women and minorities.
“The American dream is well and alive,” Novello, the first woman and first Hispanic to serve as surgeon general, said at a White House ceremony. “Once a dream, it is now my pledge: to be a good doctor for all who live in this great country.”
Novello, who succeeds C. Everett Koop, is a pediatrician who has specialized on AIDS and kidney disease in children.
The surgeon general officially is the leader of the 6,500-member Public Health Service, but Koop and others have used the post as a bully pulpit to influence government policy on smoking, AIDS and other health-related issues.
Bush also mentioned drug and alcohol abuse and AIDS as among the challenges facing Novello. “The tasks ahead are difficult,” he said. “Because so many of these problems begin with our children, it is only right that we ask a pediatrician to help.”
This copyrighted article was published by the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on March 18, 1990:
Lorain’s Novello Family Gains Fame in Government and Show Business
By Brian Kyhos
Washington—What do a not-ready-for-prime-time priest, a psychiatrist who sometimes hosts broadcast talk shows and the surgeon general of the United States have in common?
If you guessed the Novello family of Lorain, you have an odd knowledge of trivia, but are absolutely correct. The clan that Dr. Joseph Novello, a child psychiatrist, describes as a “hardworking, unobtrusive family” is quickly becoming one of the most visible families in America.
Joseph’s brother is Don Novello, better known as Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live. Currently working on a dramatic role in part three of “The Godfather,” he parlayed his Sarducci persona into nationwide fame.
Joseph’s wife is Dr. Antonia Novello, who recently became, as she said, “the first Hispanic, the first Puerto Rican, the first female surgeon general.”
Joseph Novello grew up in Lorain, the son of a doctor and a nurse, Dr. Augustine and Eleanor Novello. They still live in the town, as does their dauther, Eileen.
The elder Novello said Joseph was “the intellectual type.” He said Don didn’t do as well in school, but showed his comic side early.
“Yeah, he fooled around,” Novello said, laughing. “But he had his own ideas about things.
“They both surprised me,” he added. “I didn’t think they would go as far as they did.”
Joseph graduated from Lorain High School in 1958, went to Notre Dame for his undergraduate degree and on to medical school at the University of Michigan. Novello said that for a time he was a journalism major, a skill he has put to use as a radio and television show host and currently as a columnist for Woman’s World magazine.
Dr. and Dr. Novello met when Joseph joined the Navy. He was assigned to Puerto Rico, where he was introduced to the woman who would become surgeon general. Two years later the two were married.
“She graduated from medical school on Friday: we got married on Saturday,” Novello said. They lived in Michigan while both got advanced medical training, but eventually moved to Washington partly because it “was equidistant for families in Puerto Rico and Ohio.”
What time is left after Novello finishes his Woman’s World column is taken up by other pursuits. He is an associate professor at Georgetown University and also maintains a private practice.
Novello takes his family’s prominence in stride, a product of his upbringing. His parents were always “more proud of accomplishment than celebrity.” These days they have both.
This copyrighted article was published by the Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama) on June 1, 1990:
Novello Warns Smoking Fatal to Today’s Teens
Washington (AP)—Five million of today’s children will die of smoking-related illnesses in their later years if the current rate of tobacco use by young people continues, the U.S. surgeon general said Thursday.
Dr. Antonia Novello, in her first major address on smoking, said more than 3,000 teenagers become regular smokers each day.
She accused cigarette companies of spending $3.3 billion annually to advertise and promote their products in ways that appeal to children and adolescents.
A spokeswoman for the Tobacco Institute, interviewed later, said cigarette companies do not want children as their customers.
“For decades we have taken aggressive actions to keep cigarettes out of the hands of kids,” Brennan Dawson said. She said advertising is not aimed at creating new smokers, but selling tobacco products to people who already smoke.
Novello’s remarks came at a conference to stop smoking among minors held by the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health National Advisory Committee. The program also featured speakers from the Pan American Health Organization, the Stop Teenage Addiction to Tobacco organization, and educators and law enforcement officials.
The program coincided with World No-Tobacco Day.
Novello said 44 states restrict the sale of tobacco products to minors.
“In six weeks, it will be 45,” Dawson, the tobacco spokeswoman, said, noting that Kentucky recently passed such legislation. “We’re not opposed to that.”
But the surgeon general was critical of the enforcement of those laws, saying only five states have been able to provide statistical information of violations.
She quotes an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association as saying an estimated 1 billion packs of cigarettes are sold annually to children under 18 years of age.
This copyrighted article was published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on Nov. 7, 1992:
Surgeon General Wins Case
Native Americans Found Beer Company’s Label Offensive
Washington—Surgeon General Antonia Novello declared triumph Friday over a New York company that refused to change the name of Crazy Horse malt liquor to satisfy Native Americans who found the brand offensive.
“It is time we clamp the lids down on profits made at the expense of people’s pride and dignity,” Ms. Novello told a meeting of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
“I probably feel better about this victory for all of us than almost anything else that has happened while I’ve been surgeon general,” she said.
In October, Congress passed a measure effectively preventing the Hornell Brewing Co. of Brooklyn, N.Y., from using labels with the name Crazy Horse on the beer they distribute. The provision, in an appropriations bill, instructed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to rescind approval for the labels and deny any future applications to use that name.
The company may sell the beer already packaged with the label but may not put the label on any new containers.
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