Smoke-free advocates say the policy can be more palatable if part of a wellness campaign; also say to include smokers at the table

Onjewel Smith of the Southern States Regional Project of the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation discussed smoke-free campaigns in rural communities at the 2019 Kentucky Tobacco Conference. (Photo by Melissa Patrick)

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

If you’re trying to win passage of smoke-free policies in communities that have been resistant to such efforts, you should focus on the broad issue of improving the health of those communities. That’s what one told more than 250 attendees at a conference, saying that efforts to make a community healthier naturally lends itself to policies that minimize exposure to second-hand smoke.

Onjewel Smith, who works for the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation Southern States Regional Project, offered examples of how rural communities in Mississippi and Louisiana have successfully passed smoke-free laws by focusing on “healthy community initiatives.” She told the group that these strategies have worked because advocates have framed smoke-free in a way that matters to these communities.

“It’s about getting people to think about wellness and not necessarily smoke-free,” she said. Later adding, “I don’t care what the motivation is. I really don’t. At the end of the day we want these policies in place. We want people protected. ”

She also reminded the group that getting folks ready for a smoke-free policy requires a whole lot of community engagement to bring awareness to the issue. “We can’t ask for change until people understand there is a problem,” she said.

As of April 1, 35.5% of Kentuckians are protected by smoke-free laws covering all indoor workplaces and public places.

The 2019 Kentucky Tobacco Conference “Envisioning a Smoke-Free Future” was held April 16 and 17 in Lexington. It was hosted by the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, the Kentucky Department for Public Health, the University of Kentucky College of Nursing and the Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program.

Another recurring theme at the conference was to make sure people who would be most affected by a smoke-free policy are included at the table. Speakers at a harm-reduction summit shared a similar message last week, stressing the importance of partnering with drug users to make syringe exchanges truly successful.

For example, the speakers said African Americans, people from the LGBTQ community, people in addiction and recovery, and people from low socioeconomic status, all need to be involved in policy making. These groups were mentioned because they tend to use tobacco products at high rates, largely because they have been targeted by the tobacco industry.

Vivian Lasley-Bibbs, acting director of the Office of Health
Equity at the state Department for Public Health, engaged
with the advocates at the conference. (Photo by Melissa Patrick)

Vivian Lasley-Bibbs, acting director of the Office of Health Equity at the state health department, talked about the importance of looking at tobacco policies from the lens of health equity, which she said requires us to think about how a policy, decision or practice is unfair to one group or another.

She asked, “How many times have you worked around an issue or gone into a community and sat around the table where those who are impacted aren’t there?”

Dr. Valerie Yerger, an associate professor of health policy at the University of California, San Franscisco, had a similar message as she spoke about the tobacco issue: “Look around; if you are dealing with an issue that affects marginalized people, make sure that they are there and let them participate. And think in terms of how you can make the work very, very relative to them.”

Another hot topic at the conference was use of electronic cigarettes among teenagers, which has increased nearly 80 percent in the last year among high-school students.

Mindy Ickes, an associate professor at UK and the director of several programs that promote tobacco-free college campuses, told the group that Kentucky data shows that e-cigarette use is as high as 75% among students in some Kentucky high schools.

Jelaine Harlow, a Lake Cumberland District Health Department health educator who works with youth in Casey and Adair counties, said they have largely focused on e-cigarette education with teachers and youth this year, adding that they have even had to deal with a first-grader on the school bus with a Juul, which is the most popular e-cigarette device among teens.

“Juuling has consumed us,” she said. “Our kids are using them and they are using them tremendously, it’s unbelievable.”

Awards were also given for work in several categories, including:

The city of Williamstown was one of six Kentucky cities to be
recognized for success in enacting a smoke-free workplace
ordinance. Mayor Rick Skinner (far left) was also the recipient
of the Smoke-free Advocate of the Year award. (UK photo) 

The city of Elizabethtown received the Smoke-free Excellence in E-Cigarette Policy Award for expanding its smoke-free ordinance to include e-cigarettes.

The Lee T. Todd Jr. Smoke-free Hero Award recipient was Liz Burrows, health educator for Oldham County Health Department, for her commitment to smoke and tobacco free environments in the face of adversity.

The Timothy W. Mullett M.D. Lung Cancer Prevention Award recipient was Ashley Gibson, research coordinator for St. Claire Healthcare in Morehead, for her devotion and passion for preventing lung cancer through education, advocacy and policy change.

David Nunery received the Brian Early Mattone Esq. Legal Counsel Smoke-free Support award for outstanding smoke-free legal service.

The Smoke-free Youth Advocate Award recipient was Monroe County CARES Youth Prevention Ambassadors for excellence in promoting secondhand smoke education and smoke-free policy.

The Smoke-free Indoor Air Excellence Award recipients were the cities of La Grange, Martin, Murray, Paducah, Stanford and Williamstown, and Hardin and Oldham counties.

The recipient of the David B. Stevens M.D. Smoke-free Advocate of the Year, for promoting the secondhand smoke education and smoke free policy, was Rick Skinner, mayor of Williamstown.

Previous Article
Next Article