January marks two major milestones in tobacco prevention and control efforts, one national and one local.
2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. Since 1964, smoking prevalence among U.S. adults has been reduced by half. Unfortunately, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States, according to the Surgeon General’s office.
January 2014 also marks the one-year anniversary of Orange County’s Smoke-Free Public Places Rule, initiated and passed by the Orange County Board of Health and later approved by the Board of County Commissioners. The rule prohibits smoking indoors for any businesses that allow people in their buildings and outdoors on property owned by local governments. Essentially that means parks and recreational facilities, bus stops and sidewalks.
The emphasis of the rule, rather than issuing citations, has been to educate the public on the effects of secondhand smoke, minimize exposure to secondhand smoke, and reduce the number of teens who smoke. In the past year, the Orange County Health Department undertook an extensive education and awareness campaign to promote cessation services and make people aware of the Smoke-Free Public Places Rule. Through grant funding, ads were placed on buses, billboards, television, and in newspapers and magazines. In addition, more than 600 permanent smoke-free signs have been placed throughout the county and within its municipalities.
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At the time of implementation, an information and complaint line (919-245-2480 or bit.ly/1feA8Ix) was set up. In the past year, only 11 complaints were received via the hotline. Of those, four were valid and addressed, two could not be verified, and the remaining five were for areas not covered by the rule, including one from Orange County, California. The Health Department has also formed “Smoking Response Teams” composed of staff and community volunteers that go to high smoking areas to talk with people about the Rule and ask them not to smoke in that area.
One of the major discussion points over the past year has been around enforcement. No law has 100 percent compliance and we are certainly not expecting that here. Success is not measured by the number of citations issued; nor is it the immediate cessation of all smoking in all public places. Ideally what we’d like to see is a steady and gradual decline in the number of people smoking where it is not allowed. If enforcement is important to you, here’s what you can do:
• If you see a person smoking where they shouldn’t be, please just tell them in a friendly, non-confrontational manner that smoking is not allowed.
• Call our Smoke-Free OC hotline to report areas that seem to draw groups of smokers and request a Smoking Response Team.
• Volunteer to serve on a Smoking Response Team.
• Help people you know who smoke to quit by referring them to the Health Department for smoking cessation programs that include free Nicotine Replacement Therapy.
We have seen tremendous progress and support over the past year, but it is going to continue to take all of us together improve health and make the change for a truly smoke-free OC.
Colleen Bridger is the director of the Orange County Health Department.