Opinion: Smoke-free zones key to reducing tobacco harms

By Dr. William Burman

When you work in the secondhand smoke arena for a while, you start to wonder about things. Do smokers understand how dangerous their smoke is to non-smokers, especially children? How about non-smokers? Are they more in the know about secondhand smoke? Who is actually doing something to protect their family and friends from secondhand smoke?

Dr. William Burman, director of Denver Public Health.

Dr. William Burman, director of Denver Public Health.

We have some answers to these questions now, thanks to an evaluation done on a secondhand smoke marketing campaign being led by Denver Public Health with support from a number of other urban and rural public health agencies.

The data from the evaluation reveal people do understand that secondhand tobacco smoke is dangerous for everyone, especially children. However, only one-third of the smokers we talked with said they have policy against smoking in their homes.

Nearly three-quarters of the people surveyed asked about the “I Am A Smoke-Free Zone” campaign we launched said that no one is allowed to smoke anywhere in their home. However, when we looked at this finding based on the smoking status of those questioned, we found that more than 80 percent of non-smokers have a policy against smoking anywhere in their homes, but less than 40 percent of smokers have that policy.

We were pleased to discover our “I Am A Smoke-Free Zone” campaign, just beginning its third wave of advertisements, is reaching its target audience: parents of young children and people who smoke.

We’ve been getting a lot of anecdotal feedback that kids are embracing the campaign’s primary message. While the effort focuses on reaching adults, we are thrilled that our message is resonating with children and that they are telling their parents and others to honor their desire to be “smoke-free zones.”

A billboard from the "I am a Smoke-Free Zone" campaign resonated with kids and adults.

A billboard from the “I am a Smoke-Free Zone” campaign resonated with kids and adults.

The campaign focuses on four common myths about secondhand smoke:

(1) That blowing your smoke out a window or door prevents secondhand smoke exposure,
(2) That ventilation in a home or car is a good strategy,
(3) That room deodorizers can minimize risk, and
(4) That if it’s not enough to smoke in another room, open windows, and get rid of the odor, then the only other option is to quit. (The truth: You can protect others from the risks of secondhand smoke whether you quit or not.)

The secondhand smoke campaign is being coordinated by Denver Public Health, with support from other county public health agencies including: Jefferson, Tri-County (Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas), Larimer, Logan, Sedgwick, Morgan, Yuma, Kit Carson and Lincoln. The Evolution Agency, a communications firm, and WestGroup Research, were contracted to support the campaign.

Our campaign is utilizing English and Spanish television, radio, Internet, special events, outdoor (billboards and other signage), convenience store and restroom-based marketing to alert everyone about the need to protect children from the harmful toxins and chemicals in secondhand smoke and to correct the misperceptions of how to protect them.

With all the focus on the health impacts associated with the legalization of marijuana, it’s easy to overlook the dire health impacts of smoking tobacco – both to the smoker and to those exposed to the secondhand smoke. Tobacco use is still the number one cause of preventable death. We need to continue our efforts to reinforce this message and, more importantly, to motivate people to make changes to protect themselves and those around them.

For more information on how to protect children from secondhand smoke go to iamasmokefreezone.org.

Dr. William Burman is Director of Denver Public Health.

Opinions expressed in Health News Colorado represent the view of individual authors.
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