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

UNIDAD TPCC Passes Two More Smoke-Free Ordinances

New Year? New smoke-free ordinance! In last month’s Compass, we mentioned how we look forward to celebrating more success in 2017, but we didn’t expect to see it happening so soon! The UNIDAD Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalition in the Rio Grande Valley has worked to pass two more smoke-free ordinances already this January.

On Jan. 3, Donna and Weslaco joined Alton, Edinburg, Mission, and Pharr on Hidalgo County’s list of smoke-free ordinances. Hidalgo County is now home to six of the 60 cities in Texas with smoke-free ordinances.

In addition to preventing the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes inside restaurants, clubs, bars, and other buildings, Donna smokers have to be 25 feet from a building entrance or window when they light up. In Weslaco, that distance is 20 feet. Businesses in both cities will receive information on the new ordinances and will have 30 days to comply and before the city begins enforcing the new laws.

A major benefit of a smoke-free ordinance is decreasing the number of Texans exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke contains a mixture of over 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which contain cancer-causing agents (carcinogens). Young children are particularly vulnerable to secondhand smoke because their lungs are not fully developed. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, tobacco related disease cost the state approximately $17.7 billion.

UNIDAD is aiming for a smoke-free county, and one day TST hopes to see a smoke-free state. Increasing the number of smoke-free ordinances across the state helps put a dent in the 498,000 youth under the age of 18 alive today that will ultimately die from smoking related illnesses. We take the health of Texas youth very seriously; it is the reason for our quest to create healthier and safer communities.

We happily applaud the efforts and successes of the coalitions working to create smoke-free communities. UNIDAD will have our continued support in pushing for the positive impact a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance has on the community they serve.

TST offers training and technical assistance for communities working to enact smoke-free ordinances. If you are interested in bringing TST’s expertise to your coalition, please contact Steve Ross for more information.