Friday, May 19, 2017

Second town in tobacco-loving Grayson County goes smoke-free; local Population Health Committee's efforts helped

Clarkson, in Grayson County (Wikipedia map)
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Two of the three towns in Grayson County now have smoke-free ordinances, partly as a result of a campaign led by the CEO of the local hospital.

Clarkson, with an estimated population of 900, became the second city in the county of 26,000 to enact a city-wide smoking ban. Leitchfield, the county seat, population 6,900, became smoke-free Jan. 1.

The Clarkson City Commission approved the ordinance by a 3-2 vote at a special called meeting May 1, Theresa Armstrong reports for the Grayson County News-Gazette.

Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center CEO Wayne Meriwether, a smoke-free advocate who leads a local Population Health Committee, said in a telephone interview that Clarkson's ordinance will take effect immediately and is stronger than Leitchfield's ordinance because it not only includes all public places, as Leitchfield's does, but also workplaces.

“Those commissioners that were in favor of it . . . wanted to send a message that their community was progressive and that they wanted to do what was in the best health interest of their community. So they took a strong stance on it,” Meriwether said.

Clarkson Commissioner Ed Schott voiced concern at the meeting about the distance smokers must stand from an establishment's door under the ordinance, Armstrong reports. “The front porch of the funeral home is not 15 feet from the door in any direction, and, at the ball field, the concession stand is not 15 feet away,” Schott said. “I would like us to remove this restriction from the ordinance.”

Schott and Mayor Bonnie Henderson, at the March 13 meeting, told the commissioners that the general consensus of the city's local businesses was that most of them were already smoke-free, but didn't want a law telling them how to run their businesses, Armstrong reported in March.

Despite these concerns, the ordinance passed. Schott, who originally supported the ordinance, and Henderson, who had always opposed it, voted against it; Commissioners Bob Vincent, Joyce Bell and Kay Gibson voted in favor of it.

The Population Health Committee, which is made up of representatives from the hospital, local schools, the health department, city government, local industries and other interested citizens, has led smoke-free efforts in Grayson County, where tobacco was once the main cash crop and its heritage remains strong. The county's estimated smoking rate is 34 percent; the state rate is 27 percent.

Initially the committee worked to pass a countywide ban, but that effort died last year for lack of a second reading in the Grayson County Fiscal Court, despite strong local support and a survey that found 82 percent of the people in the county wanted it.

Meriwether said the committee decided to advocate for smoke-free laws "community by community" after the county-ban failed. Caneyville, estimated population 620, is the only incorporated community left in Grayson that hasn't passed a ban.

“That's been the goal all along: Leitchfield, Clarkson and then Caneyville,” Meriwether said. “That would be the biggest part of our county, if we can get all three communities to have ordinances.”

He added, “We have their packets all ready!” The committee has prepared information packets that include facts about the dangers of second-hand-smoke and the results from the countywide survey.

Hospital CEO Wayne Meriwether and Ellen Hahn, director
of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy (UKNow photo)
Leitchfield and Meriwether were recently honored at the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy's annual conference for their efforts in promoting smoke-free workplaces.

Leitchfield city leaders were presented with the "Smoke-Free Indoor Air Endeavor" award and Meriwether was honored with the "2017 Lee T. Todd, Jr. Smoke-free Hero" award for his advocacy of smoke-free ordinances and getting rural hospitals to push for them, reports the News-Gazette.

“I was really happy to see Leitchfield was recognized," he said. "It took a lot of courage for them to be the first one and their city council took some heat, but they did the right thing and they listened to their constituents that wanted it, which was the majority of them.

“And I appreciated getting an award, but that really should go to all of our Population Health Committee members and others that advocated for the ordinance -- a lot of people did.” he said.

Meriwether said his interest in the subject was spurred by concern for children. “We moved from Leitchfield from Henderson, Kentucky, about five years ago. . . . Henderson went smoke-free about 10 to 12 years ago and my children had, didn't remember any place where people smoke. The first restaurant we went to when we moved to Leitchfield, we walked in, and my daughter said, 'What's that smell?' And I said, well, they allow smoking in here. And she said, 'I didn't think anyplace allowed smoking.'

“The point is, in just a few years you can make such a difference and change so many lives. So my kids were never exposed to cigarettes, they weren't allowed anyplace, and so they both grew up as nonsmokers. And that is the kind of effect an ordinance can have.”

The Population Health Committee came out of the hospital's Community Health Needs Assessment, which is required every three years under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In addition to its smoke-free advocacy work, the committee actively works on initiatives around nutrition and obesity, increasing opportunities for physical activity and improving community awareness about health and wellness.

"We felt like it was a responsibility for us to try to make a difference," Meriwether said of the committee. "I think it is a real model for hospitals to follow to try to make a difference in the communities that they serve."

He stressed the importance of community partnerships to improve the health of its citizens.

"We may have initiated the committee," he said. "but it takes a lot of people to make a difference."

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