Khian Grayson, 3, claps along with Deborah Blockmon as she sings a song about not smoking to the children at the Schrader Lane Child Care Center in Nashville, Tenn., July 19, 2006. Ms. Blockmon, a former smoker who has tried for years to get adults to kick the habit, has found an effective new weapon, the children of the smokers. Ms. Blockmon came up with some songs the kids could sing every time someone lit a cigarette in their presence. Photo: AP/World Wide Photos
WASHINGTON (NNPA) - As a $4.5 million effort to curb tobacco use among Blacks over three years is coming to an end in April, the American Legacy Foundation, which granted the money to six Black organizations in 2004, says the fight against tobacco use in the Black community is escalating.
“It was an unprecedented alliance of leadership organizations that came together for a common cause. And even though all these leadership organizations had their own respective reputations, missions, purposes, they were all able to minimize the differences and to use their leadership to publicize and support a public health message,” says Helen Lettlow, Legacy’s assistant vice president for the Priority Population Department. “By this collective group of partners, we were able to raise public awareness. We were able to showcase and spotlight the importance and the impact of tobacco use in the Black community.”
Notwithstanding, three years later, the impact of tobacco in the Black community can still be summed up in one word—”deadly.” It is still estimated to kill 45,000 Blacks each year and more than 120 Blacks a day. That’s 10 percent of the total 450,000 people each year or more than 1,200 a day.
The group of six organizations, called the African American Partners for a Tobacco-Free Society, laid the groundwork for education on issues such as youth smoking, second hand smoke, and how to quit. But, Ms. Lettlow says new campaigns will escalate the momentum as 22 percent of all adult Blacks still smoke—27 percent of Black men and 17 percent Black women.
The six organizations: the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, the National Conference of Black Mayors, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the National Association of Neighborhoods, spread the message to millions of Blacks through forums, public service announcements, and news articles over the past three years as a part of Legacy’s “Priority Populations Initiative.” Legacy is the only foundation in the nation that focuses solely on tobacco prevention and cessation.
One of the more creative outreach campaigns is Legacy’s public health pilot program called “eX,” which is a cinema ad campaign that started last month running in eight Baltimore-area theaters and will continue for 12 weeks. The comical ad features a Black man who can’t perform normal everyday tasks without a cigarette.
Ultimately, the ad campaign will appear on more than 100 movie screens around the country. The commercial ends with the toll-free telephone number: 1-800-QUIT NOW.
Though reaching people is assured, it is difficult to measure the impact.
“Often times people will take actions weeks or months afterward. But, this program is to plant the seed that, one, this is a health issue, it’s one that needs to be addressed and that there’s help available,” says Ricardo C. Byrd, executive director of NAN, which is the coordinating organization for the partnership. “So we think a percentage of those people who hear the message will take action. But, even a greater number will feel that this is something doable as opposed to maybe feeling before that they were without capacity to try to stop.”
Legacy is now preparing to launch what it calls Phase Two of the Priority Populations Initiative, says Ms. Lettlow.
“Phase one was a grassroots, nationwide effort to provide funding to community organizations in African-American urban low income communities,” Ms. Lettlow says, “African-American partners was an expansion of Phase I, which said not only did we want grassroots involvement, but grass tops involvement.”
Phase Two of funding, to start in July and go for another three years, will focus largely on smoking among substance abusers by funding rehabilitation programs for anti-smoking initiatives. Phase I will also focus on the reduction of second-hand smoke in the home, and the integration of smoking cessation campaigns with other good health initiatives, such as diabetes education and healthy heart campaigns.
If the current smoking patterns of Blacks continue, an estimated 1.6 million Black people currently under the age of 18 will become regular smokers, and about 500,000 of them will eventually die of a smoking-related disease.
The key is apparently starting the education among the youth, says Lisa Fager, chair of the Partnership and director of the anti-smoking education initiative of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Ms. Fager spent the past three years traveling to historically Black colleges and universities to disseminate information about the dangers of tobacco. She hopes she has motivated thousands of student to act against smoking.
“I think we definitely made an impact in their critical thinking in how to implement peer-health education on campuses and how to be more innovative and creative in talking to their peers about tobacco,” says Ms. Fager.
But, Ms. Fager acknowledges it is a difficult battle. “The people who are trying to send out the messages about tobacco are very creative about what they do. I’ve tried to show the students that they need to be just as good and that they definitely should think before they act.”
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