“Comprehensive smoke-free policies reduce youth smoking prevalence, initiation and uptake.”
When this past February 18th the Lakewood City Council voted 4-3 not to make its 12 parks tobacco-free, the reasons councilmembers proffered for objecting to the ban that had been unanimously proposed by the Lakewood Parks Advisory Board ranged from ‘not government’s job,’ to questioning how enforcement could be effective, to basically not liking to be told what to do and where not to do it.
There are those who decry the interference of government upon one’s personal choices such as smoking tobacco in public places – as are parks – as yet another example of the intrusion of a big brother, nanny state, liberty limiting, meddlesome and bothersome, unwanted and unnecessary“judicial overreach.”
But consider the impact when government assumes its proper role – comprehensively partnering with family, school and community at all societal levels, including policy-makers, all potential influences on the likelihood of substance use – in protecting and safeguarding the quality of life, education and welfare of its citizens, choosing to govern well even over, and more than, what the people want.
If you must choose, implies Carl H. Neu, Jr., president of New and Company and director of the Center for the Future of Local Governance, opting for ‘the big picture’ through “exercising wisdom, judgment and courage (is) to be (good) stewards of the quality of the community’s future.”
Take seat belts for example.
In a paper entitled “Social Norms and Attitudes About Smoking,” Majorie Gutman, Ph.D., wrote “instituting even an unpopular policy may decrease a risky health behavior and eventually alter social norms and attitudes. Seat belts were not especially popular when they were first mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1984 and many people resented having to buckle up every time they got into a car. Nevertheless, auto manufacturers complied with the law by installing seat belts, and many people began to use them. Several years after the law went into effect, seat belt use increased, as did positive attitudes about them, bolstered perhaps by evidence confirming the number of lives they saved.”
Similarly, observed Gutman, “the increasingly negative trend in youth attitudes (with regards tobacco) appears to reflect a broader societal shift among adults and policy-makers.”
Policy-makers’ clear, unambiguous and unequivocal position on a matter – as a tobacco-free parks decision would have been, as opposed to the ‘not our job’ etc. dubious rationalizations reflecting the majority opinion of the Lakewood City Council – impacts behavior, wielding influence especially upon youth and contributing to the likelihood that kids will quit.
Modeling matters whether it is the message delivered by policy-makers or the example set by major league baseball players.
It was the “National Spit Tobacco Education Program,” as illustrated by Gutman, which significantly “shifted social norms and attitudes by engaging major league baseball players in decreasing their own use of spit tobacco, and more broadly its use by youth and the public. The premise was that the widespread use of spit or smokeless tobacco by major league baseball players ‘normalized’ or ‘glamorized’ its use, especially among young people who looked up to professional athletes.”
Government – including the elected representatives of city councils – has a vested interest in partnering with organizations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which has as its “mission to improve and make a demonstrable difference in health and health care for all Americans.
“Studies show that policies that make tobacco use less appealing have the greatest chance of reducing tobacco use.”
So when the Lakewood City Council opted for a 50-foot ‘buffer’ – allowing smoking beyond that distance from playgrounds, restrooms, picnic shelters, swimming beaches, events and concession areas – the council was in affect accommodating the habit while at the same time having little impact upon the prospect of those quitting much less the up-taking potential among especially the nearby (50 feet) observing youth.
And yet take a one-minute, forty-five second video tour of Lakewood and the first words extoll the city’s reputation as being one of the nation’s best 100 places for young people.
With now perhaps the exception of those best places for young people in Lakewood being parks.
Given that “each day about 1,200 children and adolescents become daily smokers withadolescents and young adults in the United States the populations with the highest smoking prevalence,” creating tobacco-free parks is the responsibility of government that has as its self-mandated priority the development of a vision for the quality of life of its residents – fostering, emulating, modeling, messaging and carrying out its mission.
Especially to its youth.