When all of the hard campaign work is over and a new smokefree law is finally implemented and celebrated, we, in public health advocacy, often turn our attention to the next campaign and its challenges. Once the rollout of a law is underway in a community, smokefree environments really do become the new normal and the years pass by with little fanfare. All the while, smokefree laws are quietly protecting people; removing risk factors associated with chronic disease, reducing health disparities, saving lives, and moving the needle in each respective community closer to achieving health equity. When we celebrate a city’s smokefree anniversary, we are celebrating its commitment to pursuing health equity.
As we gear up for new challenges in 2022, we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge a few notable smokefree anniversaries in Southern states.
Smokefree advocates in Georgia are celebrating 10+ years of smokefree Savannah. As one of Georgia’s top destination cities, Savannah’s decision to protect all residents, employees, and visitors from secondhand smoke exposure sent a strong message to the business and travel industries that smokefree environments are good for health and good for business. The success and popularity of the Savannah law continues to serve as the benchmark for efforts throughout the state.
Savannah’s win paved the way for comprehensive laws in Georgia’s two largest municipalities – Augusta and Atlanta. Together, these cities are home to Georgia’s largest African American population, and their strong smokefree laws are helping to reduce health disparities on the road to heath equity. The Atlanta law, implemented in January 2020 and now entering its 3rd year, guarantees smokefree protections in workplaces, restaurants, bars, and music venues for nearly a half million residents and employees and more than 50 million tourists.
The city of Alexandria is celebrating its 10th year of comprehensive smokefree protections after it became the first municipality in Louisiana to take advantage of restored local control granted by the Louisiana Smokefree Air Act (Act 815). Although Act 815 left gaping holes in smokefree protections by exempting bars and gaming venues, it removed preemption and cleared the way for local municipalities to pass stronger laws. The Alexandria law paved the way for municipalities throughout the state to follow suit, including several major gaming communities such as New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport. In the 10 years since Alexandria’s landmark win, 29 additional Louisiana municipalities have passed comprehensive smokefree ordinances protecting nearly 30 percent of the state’s population. There’s more work to be done in Louisiana as more communities work to follow Alexandria’s lead.
Metcalf, MS, was the very first law to be passed in the state of Mississippi. It was a small, but mighty event, but now Mississippi has more than 170 comprehensive smokefree ordinances, protecting 30.1 percent of people in the state, whereas before, NO ONE was protected from secondhand smoke.
Passing a smokefree law in the southern states isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. With the breadth of health challenges facing the southern states, comprehensive smokefree laws are helping reduce health disparities while creating a culture of health.
Onjewel Smith has worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 20 years helping organizations and communities build their capacity for sustainable change. She has conducted sessions on grassroots advocacy, coalition building, strategic planning, and fundraising. Throughout her career, Ms. Smith has helped develop strategic alliances between local coalitions and community based organizations.