From: Kelsey Scott, health educator, Winona County

 

Back-to-school time is here again. As the world around us shifts into fall, it’s not hard to notice how much the environment around us affects our day-to-day life. Some things are unavoidable – the air will get cooler, and we will have to bring out the jackets and coats. Other things are part of the systems in which we live – like this winter, if the snowplow hasn’t made it to your block yet, you may have a rough time getting out of your driveway for work.  

Similarly, our exposure to commercial tobacco is largely dependent on the environment around us and the system in which we live, work, and play. While an individual may not smoke, they could be exposed to commercial tobacco smoke in many situations: walking through a smoking area to enter work, in their home, or in any area where commercial tobacco use is happening. Kids can be exposed to tobacco and start a nicotine addiction when drawn in by “fun” flavors and lax policies at local vendors. Policy change can help to make systemic and environmental changes to ensure people who do not want to be exposed to commercial tobacco avoid it. 

Smoke-free housing policies ensure our homes are free from secondhand smoke, and smoke-free workplace policies ensure we are not exposed to secondhand smoke at work. Cessation-based (over punishment-based) policies in schools can help students quit without adding additional stress or causing missed class time. A federal law in December 2019 raised the age for purchasing tobacco to 21 years of age. Minnesota law strengthened the federal law in August 2021 by allowing local governments to conduct compliance checks and ensure the law is being followed. Raising the age for purchase to 21 and policies around flavored tobacco are consistent with national health studies that found that raising the age to 21 would reduce smoking initiation by 25 percent among 15- to 17-year-olds and 15 percent among 18- to 20-year-olds, leading to nearly 250,000 fewer premature deaths among those born from 2000 to 2019 (www.health.state.mn.us/news/pressrel/2020/tobacco080320.html).

Enforcing these existing laws, educating youth and adults about the health effects of commercial tobacco use in all forms, and keeping abreast of new tobacco-free initiatives and policies to address the effects of commercial tobacco use, including cigarettes and vaping, are additional tools that can change the environment and systems around us for better health. Communities work best when they work together. You can affect change in the systems and environments in which you live and work every day. A place to start could be advocating for a commercial tobacco-free grounds policy at your workplace with additional policies that incentivize quitting. You could talk with your landlord about ensuring any outdoor smoking areas are away from the main entrance. 

Winona County PartnerSHIP can help make your workplace commercial tobacco-free. Reach out to Kelsey Scott at kscott@co.winona.mn.us to get started. 

Winona County ASAP can provide support and resources for substance abuse and under-21 tobacco use of any type. They offer programs for students, prescription drug take-back days, and resources on their website at www.winonacountyasap.org.

If you are looking for help with quitting commercial tobacco and are a Minnesota resident, you have free access to QuitPartner. QuitPartner offers free tools and 24/7 support for Minnesota residents looking to quit commercial tobacco, regardless of health insurance. Visit quitpartnermn.com.