It is widely known that the use of tobacco products and secondhand smoke exposure put many at risk for tobacco-related health conditions that include: cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory diseases. To make matters worse, tobacco kills more than 480,000 people each year in the United States, with most adults becoming addicted to tobacco products before the age of 18. Tobacco is the single leading preventable cause of death in the United States
The City of Independence Health Department (IHD) is committed to making Independence a healthier community by implementing programs that reduce tobacco use and initiation by tobacco-free policies.
Multi-unit residences to go tobacco-free
As a recipient of Health Forward’s Healthy Communities grant, IHD will provide assistance to Independence Housing Authority by helping to develop and implement a tobacco-free, multi-unit housing policy that will provide increased protection for residents of public housing. This campus-wide, tobacco-free policy will take effect on January 1, 2017, and will impact approximately 525 units located in three Housing & Urban Development (HUD) apartment complexes.
An immediate benefit of this policy will be protection for those who don’t smoke. Many apartments share ventilation systems, so even if residents don’t smoke, like children and pregnant women among others, they are still exposed to secondhand smoke through the shared vents. Additionally, non-smokers may encounter secondhand smoke winding its way through open windows or lingering near a building’s entry.
Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), contains a mixture of approximately 7,000 chemicals that have an impact on the most vulnerable populations such as infants, pregnant women, older adults, and those who have weak immune systems. According to the 2006 Surgeon General Report, there are no known safe levels of exposure to secondhand smoke.
The tobacco-free policy will not only protect the health of those who reside in the apartment complexes, but also help decrease the risk of fire-related injury and deaths. Additionally, the policy will help to minimize the maintenance and cleaning cost associated with smoking. IHD seeks to work with resident council members, so they may serve as the frontline to answer any questions related to the new policy change, while also providing education, technical support and wellness ideas in order to make the process a smoother transition for the residents. The tobacco-free policy can help to prevent smoking initiation among youth and adults and reduce social acceptability of smoking.
Youth participation advocacy
In addition to policy implementation, IHD will work with the Independence School District to encourage youth participation in tobacco-free advocacy. Studies have shown a decrease in tobacco use and initiation when students take the reins and advocate for a smoke-free environment with tobacco-related policy. IHD will work with four schools (three high schools and one middle school) in the Independence School District by assisting students in review of their school’s tobacco policy. Students will make suggestions on how to strengthen their school’s tobacco policy and later educate their peers, staff and visitors of the campus on their current policy. Student advocates will also communicate to their student body the health implications of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, hookah and other alternative nicotine devices, by providing resources and communication tools to promote tobacco-use prevention and initiation among students.
This program also comes at an important time, with Independence joining over 100 cities and counties in raising the minimum legal sale age of tobacco, alternative nicotine devices, and vapor products to 21. Student advocates will have a critical role in educating students and the community at large on the ordinance and the long-term impact tobacco has on those under the age of 21.
With these tobacco initiatives in place, tobacco can decrease initiation among those within the Independence community.