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

No Ifs, Ands, or (Cigarette) Butts About It

 

School’s out for summer. For many families, spending more time outdoors is a big part of their summertime agenda.

Our Texas parks and beaches are at peak demand for the next several weeks, so it’s a good time to remind everyone about outdoor smoke-free ordinances and why they matter.

Even outdoors, children and adults are affected by secondhand smoke. Asthma attacks, eye irritation, headaches, and ear issues are just some of the effects of secondhand smoke. But it isn’t just an afternoon at the park that is concerning. A 2006 Surgeon General’s Report outlined the dangers of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, which include cancer and heart disease in addition to asthma and other respiratory issues. While most studies about secondhand smoke are directly related to indoor exposure, more recent studies have shown that secondhand exposure outdoors can be significant.

Because we know now there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, many communities are looking at expanding their smoke-free policies to include outdoor spaces as well. In addition to protecting people from secondhand smoke, outdoor smoking ordinances can also be helpful to individuals who are trying to quit smoking by eliminating triggers.

They also send an important message to our kids that smoking is not a community norm, which can help prevent later tobacco usage.

When looking at outdoor smoking ordinances, it’s also worth considering the environmental impact of outdoor smoking. Literally trillions of non-biodegradable cigarette butts are collected from sidewalks, beaches, and other outdoors areas every year. In addition to littering the earth, cigarette butts are also harmful to wildlife and can be toxic to fish. Cigarette butts are a significant cause of outdoor fires, and they cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year in property loss and restoration expenses. In a state like Texas, where droughts are common, fire risk is particularly concerning.

While outdoor smoke-free ordinances can be challenging to implement (especially when it comes to defining what is indoor vs. outdoor space), they contribute to a healthier and safer Texas. For more information about pursuing a smoke-free ordinance in your community, please contact Steve Ross, our Statewide Coalition Specialist, at sross@texansstandingtall.org or (512) 442-7501.

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 .