Intended for healthcare professionals


Noel Olsen

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 21 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6086
  1. Chris Mahony, London
  1. chris.mahony{at}

Public health consultant and a formidable campaigner against the tobacco industry

Even for an individual with an unusual amount of energy, “retiring” as a consultant physician at the age of 30 to retrain in public health might be seen as excessive.

The tobacco and alcohol industries, together with sundry ministers and policymakers, might have wished Noel Olsen had remained in the relative obscurity of respiratory medicine in a hospital on London’s deprived eastern fringes.

After becoming one of the NHS’s youngest consultants Olsen swiftly became frustrated at the relative ineffectiveness of treatment for the mostly poor patients he was treating for lung cancer. Recognising that prevention was better than cure when it came to combatting this and many other diseases, he embraced the nascent campaigning group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in the mid 1970s. He then resigned as a chest physician to retrain as a public health physician. Olsen went on to hold senior NHS public health roles in Cambridge, London, and Plymouth, while …

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