By Natalie Hampton
Recently I had the good fortune to attend the three-day National Conference on Tobacco or Health in Kansas City, joining over 2,000 tobacco control supporters from across the county. The energy was incredible – lots of passionate, hard working folks. If anyone was feeling worn down by the struggle against Big Tobacco, trust me, they left with their batteries re-charged!
With so many passionate activists, I witnessed plenty of hand wringing over which break-out session to attend. In fact, I made some gut-wrenching decisions of my own. How is one to decide among “Advancing Health Communication through Social Engagement,” “Smoke Free Multi-Unit Housing,” “Youth on Rural Campuses,” and dozens of others, all in the same time slot? Seriously.
I was particularly interested in the social media sessions, as this is one of my tasks for our work with Tobacco Free Missouri. We had a chance to hear representatives from Tobacco Free Florida tell us how they generated more than 14,000 Facebook followers. Ok, to be fair, a big part of how they did it was money – they had a robust budget for this task. But they used that money wisely through a series of ads, both online and through innovative messaging, such as a widget to calculate total lifetime cigarette expenditures. This makes me appreciate all the more the great progress Tobacco Free Missouri has made toward a being a smokefree state on a modest budget.
Along with great sessions, there were fascinating facts galore. For example, did you know that 70% of tobacco used in the U.S. is grown overseas? I had no idea. (See http://www.fairtradetobacco.org/ for details.) Supporting U.S. tobacco farmers has been one of the most successful appeals for incremental changes in tobacco control. But now we have learned this patriotic notion is somewhat misguided. It turns out most tobacco is being grown in developing countries, like Bolivia and Zimbabwe. Outsourcing tobacco also has raised many questions due to allegations of human rights abuses, including child labor.
By the end of day three, the crowds began to thin as people took early Friday flights back home. As someone who lives just two hours away, I was able to stay until the very end, and I’m so glad I did. I attended a session on engaging diverse communities, which was a great reminder that cessation programs need to be culturally tailored, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, sticking with “mainstream” tobacco cessation programs can add to the gaps in smoking rates between white, middle class Americans and minority groups, who tend to have a higher smoking rate.
Tobacco Free Missouri’s own Kevin Everett, associate professor in MU’s Family and Community Medicine department and chair of the TFM Board, presented on the work he and other Show-Me State researchers have been doing with the LGBT community. One successful outcome from that research is that the Missouri Quitline is now asking callers about their sexual orientation so that they can better deliver messages about the health risks of smoking to the LGBT community. Welcome news for a community that has a 40 to 70 percent higher smoking rate than the general population.
By the conference’s end, attendees were chomping at the bit to get back to their communities to put their newfound knowledge into action. The diligence, persistence and passion of the tobacco control experts – both speakers and attendees – made for a truly memorable experience. I was fortunate to meet so many amazing advocates….which reminds me – I have lots of follow-up emails to send!