College efforts focus on reducing tobacco use in Georgia

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Georgia each year, costing the state more than 11,500 lives per year and nearly $5 billion dollars in direct healthcare and indirect costs, such as lost wages.  To address this issue, faculty and students at University of Georgia College of Public Health are working with state and local government agencies, as well as community stakeholders, to develop and implement evidence-based programs aimed at reducing tobacco use.

Policy for a Smoke-Free Athens

Graduate students at the University of Georgia College of Public Health put their heads together to develop a series of health policy recommendations that could reduce exposure to second-hand smoke in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, where UGA is based.

Using household survey data collected in Fall 2016 for the Athens Wellbeing Project(AWP) and secondary data sources, the students performed quantitative analyses of over 1,300 responses to determine smoking prevalence in Athens-Clarke County. They found that one in five people in Athens smoke, and low income and less educated households tended to have a smoker in residence.

The AWP is a collaboration between UGA and local community stakeholders whose mission is to empower the Athens community with data that could lead to more informed decision-making, improvements in service delivery, and greater quality of life for Athens residents.

Dr. Grace Bagwell Adams, an assistant professor of health policy and management, at the College of Public Health is the lead investigator on the project and guided the student analyses. The students’ goal, says Dr. Bagwell Adams, was to derive low- or no-cost policy recommendations to pass along to local leaders.

The students offered two primary suggestions. First, implement a smoking ban in downtown Athens, where many bars sell and convenience stores sell cigarettes. Other cities, including fellow college town Boulder, Colorado, already have such bans in place.

Second, impose higher taxes on cigarettes. Georgia’s cigarette tax is one of lowest in the nation, and an increase in tax would generate revenue for the local government as well as potentially deter cigarette sales and reduce smoking.

Preventing Youth Tobacco Use

Dr. Jessica Legge Muilenburg, an associate professor of health promotion and behavior in the College of Public Health, has partnered with the Chronic Disease Section of the Georgia Department of Public Health to examine how school districts in counties across North Georgia might be encouraged to adopt the DPH’s 100% Tobacco Free Schools Policy.

Georgia’s Tobacco-Free School Policy is an evidenced-based strategy for preventing youth tobacco use and is designed to protect students, staff and visitors from the dangers of second-hand smoke by eliminating tobacco use on all school grounds, buildings, athletic fields, off-campus sponsored events.

Over the past year, Dr. Muilenburg and her team have reached out to community stakeholders – parents, students, school administrators and school board members – to develop and champion a pre-adoption education campaign that would educate key decision makers about the science behind the policy, as well as the community benefits of its adoption.

Currently, 116 of 181 school districts and 8 charter school have adopted the 100% Tobacco-Free School Policy, impacting a total of 1,463,970 students across Georgia.

Rebecca Ayer and Lauren Baggett

Posted June 1, 2018.

Originally published in the June 1, 2018 ASPPH Friday Letter.