01/09/14 — Health board says no to smoking at department

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Health board says no to smoking at department

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 9, 2014 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Health on Wednesday adopted a revamped policy that restricts use of tobacco and tobacco products within 50 feet of its properties.

Calling it "a good start," veteran board member Tommy Gibson made the motion that led to the unanimous approval reinforcing the constraints.

Before it was put to a vote, however, he had hinted that it wouldn't be a bad idea to extend the restrictions "all the way to the sidewalk" and make it a tobacco-free campus.

"You have authority to go much further," said Jim Martin, director of Policy and Programs, Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Public Health. He was on the meeting agenda and made a presentation on local government regulations relating to tobacco-free policies.

The timing of the discussion coincides with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General's report about the hazards of smoking, in 1964, Martin said.

"We have come a long way since that time," he told the board, citing statistics that showed a decline in tobacco use among adults as well as high school students.

"We still have about 21.8 percent of adults who smoke (in North Carolina)," he said. "High school students who use any tobacco products (is) 22.5 percent and high school students who smoke is 15.5 percent."

The health risks of smoking and secondhand smoke are still "very dangerous," Martin said -- from premature death and diseases such as heart attacks and lunch cancer, children exposed to smoke also have a higher risk of acute respiratory infection, ear problems and asthma.

Despite being a tobacco-producing state, North Carolina has done much to regulate the problem, instituting smoke-free laws that started on the floor of the House and then the Senate and have since expanded to college campuses, public schools and bars and restaurants.

Local government has the authority to adopt and enforce ordinances and the Board of Health can restrict or prohibit smoking on its premises.

This is not a new issue for the Board of Health. Nearly 10 years ago, concerns were raised about patients and visitors having to navigate through the designated smoking areas at the county office building's entrance.

In Sept. 2008, the board adopted a no-smoking policy for the building. A few months later, in March 2009, a more restrictive policy was introduced, designating no smoking areas within 50 feet of the building.

The topic surfaced again in October, when concerns were raised about smokers congregated in the parking area where patrons had to pass. The board tabled the discussion pending further review of the policy.

"We addressed the language about tobacco products," Madden said Wednesday. "We had a smoking policy. We changed that to be tobacco and tobacco products."

The approved policy prohibits the use of all tobacco products within 50 feet of all properties owned, leased or occupied by the Wayne County Health Department. These include the county office building at 301 N. Herman Street, the Environmental Health office located in the Jeffreys Building at 134 N. John Street, the building that houses the Child Service Coordination office at 717 Ash Street and three separate WIC sites, including the main office at 809 Simmons St., and satellite offices on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and in Mount Olive at 108 B West Main Street.

Dr. Ashton Griffin, medical director for the Health Department, spoke in favor of the policy's reinforcement, saying the issue of lung cancer is one he has been outspoken about since taking the job five and one-half years ago.

Griffin recalled the alarming statistics he discovered while reviewing death certificates for the county, with between 8 and 10 percent attributed to lung cancer and heart attacks. For the first time, in Dec. 2013, those numbers were lower, at around 3 percent, he said.

He suggested that such efforts to reduce smoking might ultimately bring some of the death rates of lung cancer down and, hopefully, prevent teens from taking up the habit to begin with.

As a health agency, it is the right message to send.

"This is public health at its best," Griffin said. "This is what we ought to be doing."