Esther Schiller April 11, 1936- April 5, 2023
April 5, 2023 tobacco control lost a pioneer and a tireless advocate for the right to breathe smokefree air.
Esther was instrumental in so many successful efforts to clear the air of secondhand smoke. From restaurants and bars to airports and finally multi-unit housing, she was a fierce advocate for everyone’s right to breathe air free of toxic secondhand smoke. Her legacy casts a giant shadow in which those of us that knew her, worked with her, and loved her feel blessed to stand.
Esther’s early career was in teaching and singing. Having a beautiful voice, she sang folk music and Jewish folk songs, recording two albums. While teaching she was exposed to secondhand smoke, this resulted in lifelong COPD and the loss of her angelic singing voice. She filed a successful Worker’s Compensation suit and took an early pension from Los Angeles Unified School District.
Having a long history in political activism, being the first woman professional staff member on the LA Commission on Human Rights, she took her organizing experience to tobacco control. She confronted Philip Morris on their tour of the Bill of Rights, an attempt on Philip Morris part to promote smoking as a freedom, rather than a life robbing addiction.
She co-founded Smokefree Air For Everyone (SAFE) and helped give voice to those being injured by secondhand smoke, first in the workplace and later in multi-unit housing. SAFE was involved in efforts to educate elected officials in Los Angeles and at the state level to enact smokefree workplace protections. They also went to the LA Airport Board of Commissioners to ask for a smoke-free airport as smoking was a hindrance to access for those with respiratory and other disabilities affected by secondhand smoke. The effort was successful and became a template for other airports throughout the US.
Once workplaces, restaurants and bars were largely smokefree, Esther had the foresight to pursue protection from secondhand smoke in apartments and condominiums.
In 2005, she was awarded the Carol Russell award from the California Department of Public Health Tobacco Control Program for her outstanding efforts to reduce deaths from secondhand smoke.
We honor a life of grace, beauty and consequence, a life well lived.