An LHD of the Year Award Winner Explains How to Implement a Tobacco-Free Policy

Interview by Ian Goldstein, Web and New Media Specialist, NACCHO

NACCHO honored the exceptional achievements of local health departments (LHDs) and local health officials at the 2014 NACCHO Annual Conference, held July 8–10 in Atlanta. NACCHO’s LHD of the Year Award recognizes and honors outstanding accomplishment of LHDs across the country for their innovation, creativity, and impact on communities. The following winners were categorized by size of jurisdiction and recognized for accomplishments in outstanding internal and external policy: Small Jurisdiction: Macon County Public Health Center (Franklin, NC); Medium Jurisdiction: Whatcom County Health Department (Bellingham, WA); and Large Jurisdiction: Chicago Department of Public Health (Chicago, IL).

The following is an excerpt from a recent NACCHO podcast featuring an interview with Macon County Public Health Center Health Director Jim Bruckner, who spoke about his health department’s winning tobacco control policy.

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NACCHO: What made you decide to apply for this award?

Bruckner: Macon County has long advocated for strong tobacco control policies for our community. In partnership with our community partners—local youth groups—we set a goal in 2008 to try and get a tobacco-free parks and recreation policy established in the community. We met a bit of resistance at the time. Our county commissioners didn’t feel that they had the ability to set forth such a policy. Things changed for us in 2012 when the North Carolina legislature passed the Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars law. Although that focused on exposure to second-hand smoke, it also gave authority to local governments to regulate smoking in public places.

NACCHO: How has this policy been implemented in Macon County?

Bruckner: Our timeline for the project was nine months initially and the process began with some legislative and policy research. We utilized folks from the state division of public health’s tobacco control branch and their online toolbox for implementation policies. They also had a model policy that was great to have available; it sped up the process in getting the policy through our county attorney and into the board of commissioners. We then transitioned into building public support and securing some necessary grant funding. Once we verified that we had public support, we set about building evidence-based feasibility and support from community leaders and elected officials. In this phase, we basically went to a lot of meetings.

Once the ordinance was successfully adopted by the commissioners, we transitioned to the implementation phase. This phase was about 90 days long. We did facilities surveys, which looked at where they needed signage and what other needs facilities had. That’s what we were trying to secure the grant funding for. We purchased signage for all the recreation facilities and all of the parks; we purchased rugs for the entryways of the buildings; we did a widespread media campaign with press releases; and we did signs at the movie theaters. We clarified with our parks and rec staff and our sheriff’s department what the enforcement procedures would be and helped them develop talking points and handouts that they could give to folks who had questions or if they met with any violations. The ordinance actually went into effect July 9, 2012. One of the good things about the fact that it’s an ordinance on the enforcement side is that it established penalties if you are caught smoking in a parks and rec area.

NACCHO: For those who don’t know, what is the population of Macon County and where in North Carolina are you located?

Bruckner: We are in far western North Carolina and have a population of about 34,000. We’re a small rural county; about 50 percent of the county is national forest.

NACCHO: North Carolina was traditionally part of tobacco country. Is that part of Macon County?

Bruckner: Not necessarily Macon County but it is part of the state.

NACCHO: What was the biggest challenge, from a governmental standpoint, when implementing this ordinance?

Bruckner: We had three challenges upon which our success was largely dependent. This first was the ability to develop and demonstrate strong community support for the cause. The second was the argument of tobacco-free versus smoke-free. The third was the cost of implementation to the county.

NACCHO: Tell us more about the issue of tobacco-free versus smoke-free.

Bruckner: What we had to do in the beginning was squelch the argument of tobacco-free versus smoke-free. We built support for the tobacco-free argument by showing photos at presentations showing kids running around at the park or under bleachers at the ball field and we made sure to highlight the fact that there were cigarette butts on the ground and tobacco pouches and tobacco plugs where the children were playing. Also, the youth who were involved in advocating for this did cigarette butt pick-ups in parks and actually presented those in 20-gallon trash bags in front of the board of commissioners as an example of what they picked up in just a few hours at the park.

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Listen to the rest of the interview with Jim Bruckner about his community’s response to the ordinance and his advice to other LHDs that are looking to implement similar policies (start at the 5:30 mark) at http://bit.ly/1Ah1d8e.

Interested in listening to more of NACCHO’s podcasts? NACCHO’s podcast series is now available for subscription on iTunes. If you have iTunes or an iPhone, download the podcast app and search “NACCHO.” Once you subscribe, the latest NACCHO Podcasts will automatically download to your phone. You can also subscribe with the following link: http://bit.ly/1zd6xrI.

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