Tis the Season

Hidalgo County Sees Groundswell of Smoke Free Ordinances

“Community buy-in.” That’s the phrase Gilda Bowen uses to describe the wave of comprehensive smoke-free ordinances recently passed in communities throughout the county. Bowen is the Tobacco Coordinator for the Hidalgo County Tobacco Prevention Cessation Coalition (TPCC).

When the Hidalgo County TPCC formed in February of 2014, only one smoke-free ordinance had passed within the county. Today, 17 communities are 100% smoke-free.

“Even though there are separate cities in the county, the Valley is like a large community,” said Bowen. “So every time a city passed one, it encouraged another to take it up.”

She credits the combination of grassroots efforts and support from American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Texans Standing Tall, and other organizations for their success.

“It took research and planning from the AHA and ACS combined with a lot of one-on-one meetings to convince civic leaders that their communities wanted this,” Bowen added.

The movement built up slowly, with the cities of Edinburg, Pharr and Mission creating smoke-free ordinances from 2014-2016. Then in 2017, momentum took over, with at least one ordinance a month being passed.

Having coalition members committed to creating smoke-free communities was the major factor in making Hidalgo County virtually smoke-free. Every agenda, handout, or email from members included updates on what was happening in cities. So when McAllen had a public hearing, they had over 200 people show up.

The coalition realizes that even with this success, their work is not over.

“There will always be more work, there will always be opportunities,” said Mrs. Bowen. “We hope the community is proud and will take ownership of some projects to continue working on enforcement and implementation.”

Texans Standing Tall understands that passing and enforcing comprehensive smoke-free ordinances is hard work, but we also believe that Texas cities are up to the challenge of implementing changes that help create healthier, safer communities – Gilda Bowen and the Hidalgo County TPCC are living proof of that. If you’re interested in learning more about passing a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance in your community, please contact Steve Ross at sross@TexansStandingTall.org.

Tis the Season

Drinking Alcohol Raises Cancer Risk

Alcohol is a “definitive” risk factor for cancer, according to a statement released this month by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). 

According to ASCO, minimizing excessive exposure of alcohol has important implications for cancer prevention. In its statement, ASCO noted that alcohol consumption is causally associated with oropharyngeal (throat) and laryngeal (voicebox) cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. However, alcohol may also be a risk factor for other cancers, including pancreatic and stomach cancers.

Researchers looked at several studies that found a strong correlation between alcohol and cancer.  They concluded that 3.5% of all cancer-related deaths were due to alcohol consumption.  They further concluded that in 2012, 5.5% of new cancer occurrences and 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide were attributable to alcohol consumption.

“The importance of alcohol drinking as a contributing factor to the overall cancer burden is often underappreciated,” the organization said in its statement. “Associations between alcohol drinking and cancer risk have been observed consistently regardless of the specific type of alcoholic beverages.”

Another recent study shows that teens aged 14-17 are less likely to drink if they know about the link between alcohol and cancer. Unfortunately, most aren’t actually aware of the connection. To help create healthier, safter communities, Texans Standing Tall believes its especially important to share this new research so young people gain a better understanding of the consequences of alcohol consumption.

Tis the Season

“Fraternities must change.”

The national fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon took the bold initiative this month of announcing a ban on alcohol and other substances at all of its 215 chapters.

“Sigma Phi Epsilon and our peers have unfortunately earned a reputation for being organizations that promote alcohol consumption, misogyny and violence,” CEO Brian Warren said. “For SigEp, there can be no more discussion about maintaining that status quo. Fraternities must change.”

According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, alcohol use is the leading cause of death, disease, and disability worldwide for people aged 15-49. This is a serious public health issue that deserves our attention.

Over the last few weeks, many universities have taken steps to combat the dangerous, and sometimes deadly, alcohol-related behaviors associated with Greek life.  The most recent—and closest to home—is the suspension of all Greek activity at Texas State University after the death of a 20-year-old pledge to a fraternity.

Texans Standing Tall is encouraged by the movement within the Greek community to work to end the normalization of alcohol for teenagers and young college students. Rather than supporting a narrative that claims alcohol use is “just a part of college life,” it’s important to remind students that college is a time for them to learn, grow, and develop skills for creating a bright and healthy future – that is the college experience we want them to strive for.

Tis the Season

Summer Mindfulness

 

Summer can be a time for leisure and fun for many young people, but June and July also bring reduced parental supervision and increased boredom – and a drastic change in drinking patterns for adolescents.

On an average day in June or July, more than 11,000 kids, aged 12 to 17, start drinking. For most other months, that number is 5,000 to 8,000 per day.
Parents should be aware of the increased risk for drinking during summer months, and work to make sure the young people in their life have fun without alcohol.

After all, we know the myth that underage drinking is harmless is pervasive. While the biggest danger is drinking and driving, there are so many additional consequences to underage drinking.

Children who begin consuming alcohol before age 15 are six times more likely to experience alcohol dependence or abuse as adults. Additionally, underage drinking is linked to an increase in fights, sexual assaults, and unplanned sexual activity. Underage drinking also results in a higher likelihood of alcohol poisoning and injuries.

Right Under Our Noses

Young people are most likely to obtain alcohol from social settings and house parties. For this reason, parents play a critical role in preventing underage drinking – if they do not provide a space for underage drinking to occur, young people are significantly less likely to drink.

Parents should provide fun activities that do not involve alcohol; hosting get-togethers that are explicitly substance-free (a pool party, splash party, or movie night with adult supervision) can be an opportunity to bring kids together in a safe and alcohol-free environment. Parents should also check with the hosts of parties their children will be going to about whether alcohol will be served.

Social Host Ordinances

Texans Standing Tall is encouraged by a new development in some Texas cities that are adopting social host ordinances to help prevent underage drinking at house parties. So far, three Texas cities — El Paso, San Antonio, and Palmview —have adopted these ordinances that hold people accountable for underage drinking that occurs in their homes or on their property.

If you’re interested in participating in an initiative in your hometown, contact us for more information about how to implement a social host ordinance. Email Libby Banks (lbanks@texansstandingtall.org) or Brian Lemons (blemons@texansstandingtall.org), or call us at 512-442.7501.

This summer, help to encourage safe fun by being mindful of what your child does and providing appealing alternatives. We hope you have a fun and safe summer!

 

Tis the Season

Happy Memorial Day from TST!

Memorial Day is coming up, so we encourage everyone to take a moment to remember those who have given their lives in service of the United States. At TST, our hearts are grateful for and humbled by the sacrifices so many honorable men, women, and families have made for our country.

The increased travel that occurs during the Memorial Day Weekend also makes it one of the most dangerous holidays on the roads. To help keep everyone safe and healthy, we’ve put together some helpful tips for travel over the holiday. Happy Memorial Day!

 

Advocacy

Prevention Advocates Convene in Austin to Meet with Lawmakers

San Antonio prevention experts, youth and TST’s Christi Koenig Brisky prepare for a day of educating lawmaker on the steps of the Texas Capitol.

­­Texans Standing Tall, along with several coalitions, individuals, and youth from across the state, went to the Texas Capitol on Feb. 28 to educate lawmakers on the importance of prevention. Approximately 70 alcohol and tobacco prevention specialists attended Texans Standing Tall’s Advocacy Day to inform their representatives on the risks associated with powdered alcohol, the public health and safety benefits of raising the alcohol excise tax, the public health benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco to 21, and the critical need for tobacco prevention and control funding.

The day opened with Marjorie Clifton, with Arrow, a media consulting firm, expanding Advocacy Day participants’ knowledge on the notable outcomes from TST’s 2017 Excise Tax Survey, which was conducted by research firm Baselice & Associates. According to the survey, 65% of registered voters support a dime a drink increase, especially when the revenue generated goes to public safety and education. Increasing the alcohol excise tax by a dime a drink would generate an additional $708 million in revenue every year. By current law, 25% of alcohol excise taxes generated is automatically designated for public education; the remainder of the money could be used to fund public health and safety efforts, as well as other issues that Texans are passionate about. Raising alcohol excise taxes is also the single biggest step we can take to prevent underage alcohol use and abuse – a dime a drink would save 402 lives annually.

Advocacy Day participants also learned about Texas lawmakers’ efforts to expand the definition of alcohol to include powdered alcohol, which has a texture similar to Tang or Kool-Aid and can be added to water to make cocktails or alcoholic drinks. The expanded definition would allow the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) to regulate powdered alcohol and pave the way for this dangerous substance to be sold on the market. Kitty Allen, a public health advocate from the Galveston area, spoke to Advocacy Day attendees about the dangers powdered alcohol poses to the public health and safety of our communities. Powdered alcohol comes in small, youth-friendly packages that can easily be hidden in purses and pockets, essentially making it so teenagers can carry a 30-pack in their purses and 6-packs in their pockets to school, parties, or other events. Allen attested to TST’s belief that putting powdered alcohol on the shelves is a bad mix for Texas.

Cam Scott and Kaitlyn Murphy then took over the microphone to discuss the issues Tobacco Prevention and Control Program funded coalitions are facing. Nearly 50% of tobacco funding is on the chopping block, which could result in the state’s number of new smokers trending back up. The Campaign for Drug-Free Kids reports that states where funding was cut resulted in disastrous outcomes in the quest to create a tobacco-free generation. For example, Florida experienced a massive increase in tobacco use when state funding was slashed – smoking among youth 16 and older increased by 21.2%. When the funds were restored, smoking among youth declined by 62%.

Youth Leadership Council members met with journalist Ross Ramsey from the Texas Tribune.

The duo also briefed Advocacy Day participants on the latest in tobacco prevention efforts, Tobacco21. Attendees educated lawmakers on the benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco in Texas from 18 to 21. The measure has already passed in two states and multiple cities in the across the country. According to the Minimal Retail Impact of Raising Tobacco Sales Age to 21, 90% of smokers start by age 21, but the 18-20 crowd only accounts for 2.12% of tobacco sales. These are the sales that account for 9 out of every 10 new smokers. By restricting youth access to tobacco, we can significantly reduce the number of new smokers.

TST was incredibly inspired by eight of our Youth Leadership Council members, who carried out a fundraising campaign so they could join us in Austin for Advocacy Day. At the event, our youth expressed very strong feelings about the importance of preventing underage alcohol use.

“Underage drinking costs Texas $2.1 billion annually, primarily in law enforcement and health related issues, and it would be impossible to place a value on the loss of life,” YLC member Kayla Gardner said. “We took time to travel to Austin to let our lawmakers know what is going on in our communities and how important it is that they start looking at prevention as a way to protect me, my friends, and their own kids from the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.”

All of the issues discussed at Advocacy Day are critical issues that communities need to address. The normalization of alcohol results in higher numbers of underage drinkers, traffic deaths, homicides, suicides, and sexual assaults. The normalization of alcohol and pressure from a single business kept lawmakers from banning powdered alcohol—something that more than 30 states have already done—and allowed them to put industry interests ahead of the lives of our youth. On the tobacco front, budget restraints could result in lawmakers cutting funding to tobacco programs that save countless lives and decrease tobacco-related cancer risks.

It is up to us to act on behalf on future of generations. Advocacy Day was a strong show of support from those who are passionate about reducing the negative impact alcohol and tobacco have on the health and safety of our youth. Decide to ACT today and keep the momentum going! Register to attend TST’s Statewide Summit on May 1-2 so you can be prepared for the next obstacle in protecting today’s youth.

Tis the Season

Spotlight: Carlos Vela Testifies Before Senate Finance Committee

On January 31, second-year Youth Leadership Council member Carlos Vela testified about how slashing funds to the Tobacco Prevention and Control program would hurt the community wide efforts made by Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalitions (TPCC) across Texas.

Carlos testified that the proposed 47% cut in state funds would reverse all of the work that has been done to prevent youth picking up smoking at an early age.

“When I was in ninth grade, my friend and I were offered a tobacco product from a seniors in one of my high school classes. This student offered us an e-cigarette while we were at school.” Carlos said.

Carlos believes that if not for the program Students, Adults and Youth Working Hard Against Tobacco (Say What!), a program that is funded by the state, that he would have become a smoker, much like several members of his family.

“Say What! Gave me the tools I need to say no to tobacco products. The program has also provided me and my fellow students educational resources so that we can tell our friends why they not use tobacco products. In my experience, hearing information like this from your friends and peers, instead of teachers and adults is more impactful.” Carlos testified.

Carlos has participated in volunteer cigarette butt clean ups and lobbied the Ingleside City Council to pass a more comprehensive smoking ordinance.

Carlos’ fear that a $5.5 million budget cut from the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program could result in more youth smoking at an early age is not one to be taken lightly. In other U.S. states where tobacco prevention budgets have been cut youth smoking rates have increased.

He closed his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee with, “I am asking you to fully fund tobacco prevention services in the budget.”

Texans Standing Tall supports the efforts of Say What! Every year, we take our YLC members to Say What! conferences so that they can learn more about environmental prevention and more about being engaged in their communities. We are extremely proud of Carlos for having the confidence and leadership skills to speak before Texas lawmakers.

Tis the Season

Examining Tobacco Inequities in Black Communities

February is a chance for us to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of so many Black Americans. At the same time, it is also important to remember that there are still obstacles to overcome. We admit, the prevention field has work to do when it comes to creating solutions that address the inequities experienced by neighborhoods with a high or concentrated Black population. These inequities are especially noticeable with the discriminatory practices of the tobacco industry that target black neighborhoods and low-income schools. It is no coincidence that black people in this country die at much higher rates than their white counterparts from smoking-related illnesses.

The tobacco industry knows exactly what it’s doing. While there have been smoking declines in both youth and adult tobacco use, the health gap endures among at-risk communities. Established research indicates that the negative health affects of smoking disproportionately affects racial minorities and tobacco marketing often targets areas with a low socioeconomic status.

The shameless targeted marketing to these communities has put an unnecessary and disproportionate amount of tobacco-related health burdens on black communities. Big tobacco has been known to donate to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as sponsor cultural events, and make contributions to elected officials, community organizations, and even scholarship programs. They’ve long employed blacks to work in tobacco factories as a means of supporting their families. These seeming acts of friendliness to the black community work in contrast to the amount of damage that black families suffer at the hands of the tobacco industry. Tobacco contributes to the three leading causes of death among black Americans: heart disease, cancer and stroke.

While blacks smoke less and begin smoking at a later age than whites, they ultimately have the highest incidence of death rates and shortest survival rate of any race or ethnic group for most cancers. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reports that “more than 72,000 Black Americans are diagnosed with a tobacco-related cancer and more than 39,00 die from tobacco related cancer.” In fact, lung cancer kills more Black Americans than any other type of cancer.

Black youth are also disproportionately affected by exposure to secondhand smoke. Studies show that among youth ages three to 11, 68% of black children are exposed to secondhand smoke, compared to 37% of white children in the same age range. Secondhand smoke exposure is linked with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, ear infection, and more severe asthma attacks.

Prevention is key to the success of creating healthier and safer black communities. Blacks have lower cessation rates than whites because they generally have higher levels of nicotine dependence as a consequence of a preference for menthol cigarettes. Public education campaigns are generally well received and effective in decreasing the number of youth who start smoking, increasing the number of smokers who quit, and making tobacco industry marketing less effective. Research from the 2013 Tips From Former Smokers showed that in areas where the campaign was highly visible, the quit attempt among blacks was 60% higher than those areas that received a standard dose of the campaign.

Environmental prevention strategies like price increases are the most powerful anti-smoking factor for all youth, and enforcing laws that prohibit the sale of cigarettes to youth proves to be most effective in reducing smoking among black teens. However, research shows that black communities have not benefitted from the growing number of smoke-free ordinances and laws that have spread across the country. Research indicates that while white, Hispanic and Asian  communities are benefitting from the spread of comprehensive smoke-free ordinances, geographic region coupled with the lack of prevention resources available in black communities have made it so they aren’t benefitting as much from anti-tobacco campaigns. These issues contribute to the continued disproportionate exposure to secondhand smoke for black youth.

Instead of proposals by lawmakers to decrease funding for Tobacco Prevention and Control in our state, we should look at ways to increase funding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends comprehensive tobacco prevention and control programming which includes resources for populations that are disproportionately affected as well as funding of $5.98 per person. Yet, Texas’ current funding levels are at .25 cents to $2.50 a person. An increase in per person funding levels could support public health champions in black communities advocating for their health and safety. It’s time we start investing in these communities.

For more information about tobacco prevention and control efforts in our state, visit TexansStandingTall.org or contact Steve Ross at sross@texansstandingtall.org. If you are interested in bringing change to your community, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council will host its 2017 National Conference on Tobacco or Health Ancillary Meeting on from 5 p.m. to  7 p.m. on Thursday, March 23 in Austin, Texas. For more information on the upcoming conference and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, visit SavingBlackLives.org .