The Elm City may be smoke-free by June 2015.
Mayor Toni Harp gathered with city officials and community leaders yesterday evening to launch New Haven Smokeout — her plan to eliminate smoking from the city by the end of this fiscal year next June. The effort is part of the annual Great American Smokeout, an American Cancer Society campaign that encourages smokers to quit, even just for a day, on the third Thursday of November. The city has previously supported the national movement, but this is its first year with a plan that will include tangible goals working towards a smoke-free city.
“We want to not only advance towards a smoke-free city but also improve the overall health and well-being of people in New Haven,” city Community Service Administrator Martha Okafor said.
Paul Kowalski, acting director at the New Haven Health Department, stressed the urgent need for New Haven Smokeout. According to Kowalski, over 1,000 city residents have died in the past year from smoking-related health issues. Of the city’s smokers, over half said they have tried to quit more than twice, he said.
Okafor added that the mayor’s plan, which has been outlined but not yet finalized, will provide resources for smokers looking to quit and implement education programs in public schools to prevent smoking habits from developing.
Though it has expanded to include several city departments, Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital, the New Haven Smokeout began as a collaboration between the Board of Alders and Okafor, Harp said. Okafor presented a report to the alders on Oct. 6 which indicated that city residents were in danger of health risks stemming from smoking and secondhand smoke. Since the meeting, the alders approached the mayor to formulate a plan.
“It is crucial for us to recognize the fact that the alders, after hearing that presentation, actually reached out and took the leadership to say that we must do something,” Okafor said.
Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth said the impact of smoking on the public health of city residents was an issue she felt close to, and so she was eager to take action after hearing from Okafor’s department.
Director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees Rebecca Bombero announced that her department had just endorsed a proposal earlier this week to convert playgrounds into non-smoking zones, adding that once approved by the Board of Alders, the initiative would be a step towards protecting the city’s youth.
The Board of Education has also taken action by launching an education program to teach eighth grade students about the detrimental effects of alcohol and drugs, including tobacco, said Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools Garth Harries ’95.
“It’s not just about the quadratic formula,” he said. “It’s about students understanding the impact of smoking on their health and making smart choices throughout their lives.”
According to Okafor, while the Board of Education is working to curb youth smoking, Yale University and the Yale-New Haven Hospital approached the Smokeout as a large-scale public health issue.
University President Peter Salovey’s wife, Marta Moret SPH ’87, represented Yale at the event at City Hall yesterday, where she expressed the University’s commitment to the Smokeout. Moret, who has researched the impact of smoking on public health in New Haven, said she and Okafor had met to discuss Yale’s role in New Haven Smokeout and that the University’s School of Medicine, School of Nursing and School of Public Health would continue to engage in research on smoking cessation for the community’s benefit.
Benjamin Toll, program director of the smoking cessation service at Smilow Cancer Hospital, conducted a study with Salovey earlier this year that revealed that smokers are more likely to successfully quit if they are presented with the benefits of quitting rather than the harms of continuing. Moret referenced the study as potentially useful to the Smokeout campaign.
“We already have data on what it takes to help people to quit smoking and stay smoking-free,” Moret said. “And the biggest pieces of that are peer members, are people from your own community. This is the way you get the best results — by taking this issue on as an issue of the neighborhoods.”
Moret said the University would offer any resources it could to the city, including campus space for city Smokeout meetings.
Karen Dubois-Walton, executive director of the New Haven Housing Authority, also spoke at the event, expressing that city residents are eager to see smoke-free housing in the city.
As part of the New Haven Smokeout, Southern Connecticut State University has pledged to become smoke-free by May 31.