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Student Club Promotes Smoke Free Environments in Pima County

Public Health students take lead in Smoke Free Wildcats

With “World No Tobacco Day” coming on May 31, students in the Smoke Free Wildcats club at the University of Arizona collaborate with the Pima County Health Department and other organizations to help promote policies and programs that reduce tobacco use and the health impacts of smoking.

The Smoke Free Wildcats, a student club at the University of Arizona, works closely with Pima County Health Department (PCHD) to push for policies that reduce harm from cigarette smoke and other tobacco products. On May 31, the Smoke Free Wildcats will celebrate “World No Tobacco Day” which was founded by the World Health Organization in 1987 to raise awareness of the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease it causes.

Founded in 2019, the Smoke Free Wildcats club had been doing advocacy work with apartment complexes in Tucson to encourage them to adopt smoke-free policies. When COVID-19 hit, the club members could no longer meet with property managers in person, an approach that had been very effective. Like so many other groups, they had to pivot to new tactics when the pandemic hit, but their determination to promote smoke-free living remains strong.

Many people don’t realize that up to 65% of indoor air is shared in apartment complexes, meaning that cigarette smoke in one unit circulates into neighboring units. This was the first challenge that the club students set out to tackle, and they were able to convince the managers of apartment complexes to adopt smoke-free policies. They plan to resume that strategy once the pandemic is over. For now, the students work virtually with Terry Nordbrock, CDC REACH Program Specialist with PCHD, on digital campaigns to end smoking through education and outreach. The CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) programs seek innovative solutions to public health challenges.

“Our mission is to encourage 100% smoke free environments for all residents of Pima County,” says Nordbrock, who helped establish the Smoke Free Wildcats club, “The Club advocates for policies that support and advance tobacco prevention, meaning students get hands-on practice engaging with local businesses and community agencies.”

Recently, student club members Annika Williams, Emma Sawyer, and Natalie Schwark worked on a messaging campaign for “National Take Down Tobacco Day” on April 1, 2021 that used humor to fight tobacco use with funny graphic memes. This clever campaign can be shared on social media and the messaging is designed to reach a youth audience.

“National Take Down Tobacco Day was celebrated on April Fool’s Day and the theme of the 2021 campaign was to use humor,” said Emma, “Terry mentioned the idea of using memes as a tool for advertising the virtual event and I created 4 graphics. It was such a unique opportunity and I feel so fortunate to be able to use my creativity for good through Smoke Free Wildcats.”

Emma is working towards her undergraduate degree in the Zuckerman College of Public Health while Natalie is majoring in Natural Resources and the Environment. Annika graduated this year with a BS in Public Health, and she’s been with the club since it was founded in 2019.

“The club gave me opportunities to engage in hands-on policy advocacy and learn the processes behind policy adoption,” said Annika, “Through meeting with apartment managers, I was able to develop confidence and speaking skills which I used to interview for a fellowship position with the CDC this year. Smoke Free Wildcats also allowed me to develop my professional network by meeting with public health advocacy professionals from around Tucson. It was a really rewarding experience.”

It’s quite inspiring to see continued tobacco control leadership and advocacy coming again from Tucson and specifically the Smoke Free WildcatsThe Smoke Free Wildcats students work closely with Nordbrock at PCHD, and also collaborate with Hiram Martinez, a PCHD tobacco educator who works with high school students. In addition, they work with several community organizations including Arizona Smoke Free Living, a non-profit in Mesa Arizona that helps tenants advocate for smoke free apartment complexes. Philip Carpenter from Arizona Smoke Free Living helps to advise the club.

'It’s quite inspiring to see continued tobacco control leadership and advocacy coming again from Tucson and specifically the Smoke Free Wildcats,” said Carpenter, “Tobacco control leadership in Tucson goes back to 1972, when Tucson became the first Arizona community to have an ordinance to restrict smoking in public places. This early achievement restricted smoking in public theaters. Bravo to the Smoke Free Wildcats who continue to push for change!”

At the Zuckerman College of Public Health, the club is advised by Emily Waldron, Community Engagement and Outreach Coordinator, Academic Health Department, and mentored by faculty member Mark Martz, Assistant Professor and Director of the Arizona Center for Tobacco Cessation. "It has been a pleasure to see the club continue to move forward with its smoke-free initiatives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Martz, “and their service shows the commitment these students have to promote healthy, smoke and tobacco free lives for all Arizonans, especially as we celebrate World No Tobacco Day.”

All this collaboration with PCHD and community organizations means the students gain first-hand experience with real-world programs. They learn about policies that promote smoke free living, and help educate individuals about the harms and dangers of tobacco use and the benefits of quitting. The Smoke Free Wildcats will all celebrate World No Tobacco Day on May 31, and continue their efforts to build healthier communities here in the Tucson region and across Arizona.

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