With high schoolers participating in a national social media anti-smoking campaign and an ordinance moving through hearing and testimony, New Haven’s smoke-free campaign regained steam in March.
Last November, Mayor Toni Harp met with University and city representatives to launch the New Haven Smokeout, an initiative to decrease tobacco usage and increase education about the impacts of smoking. The first event of the Smokeout was New Haven’s “Kick Butt Campaign” on March 18, part of a national campaign where public high school students were encouraged to post as much anti-smoking social media as possible, ending the standstill the campaign had been at through majority of its first three months.
“Social media is a much more likely way of reaching young people than many other more conventional means of doing so,” said City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer. “In this day and age a newspaper or magazine advertisement or some commercial on radio or television isn’t going to draw the attention that wholesale social media posts would.”
Because tobacco companies’ documents show that they target kids as “replacement smokers” for the hundreds of thousands who die each year from smoking-related causes, the social media campaign centered around the slogan #NotAReplacement. Three student ambassadors moderated New Haven’s social media campaign.
New Haven’s Smokeout consists of three parts: education in New Haven public schools, providing resources to smokers trying to quit and passing an ordinance that would ban smoking in certain public places, according to
Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth ’90 LAW ’94.
The ordinance was introduced to the Board of Alders on March 2, and, if passed, will ban tobacco use in parks, city facilities, school grounds and city playgrounds. Roth expects the Community Services Administration of the board to vote on whether to move the ordinance forward or not in April, and she hopes to have it passed by the full board by the end of June.
Grotheer was less optimistic about this timeline. In a February interview with the News he said the June deadline will likely be missed, and his stance has not changed despite the recent progress.
“Right now the Board of Alders is up to its elbows in budget stuff,” he said. “It’s up to the alders to finalize a budget between now and June … it’s hard to know how long [the ordinance] might take.”
Both Grotheer and Roth agreed, however, that the city has complete legal authority to pass the ordinance. Roth said many alders have already agreed to co-sign it, and that with the mayor’s sponsorship, the ordinance should get through the legislative process smoothly.
Grotheer pointed out that municipal governments have had autonomy in smoking legislation in the past — for example, New York City was one of the first cities to ban indoor smoking.
The City Hall spokesman also stressed the importance of the education and awareness components of the Smokeout program, noting that encouraging people to stop smoking will also cut tobacco-related healthcare costs. This year was the first that New Haven participated in the “Kick Butt Campaign,” and Grotheer said it was an effective way to reach young people.
Still, Nicholas Christakis ’84, Yale professor of social and natural science and co-director of the Institute for Network Science at Yale, questioned whether the Kick Butt Campaign in will cause tangible change.
“You might be aware of the media campaign but it’s not going to make you quit smoking,” he said. “On the other hand, if one of your real friends quits smoking, then it might affect you. Behavior change flows through real connections, although information can flow through rigged connections.”
As of 2012, New Haven had a 13.4 percent smoking rate, slightly above Connecticut’s 12.1 percent rate, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.