Anti-Smoking Drive Targets Blacks
When it comes to looking for power and influence in African American families, officials at the Prince George's County Health Department say they have gone right to the source: They have dubbed their new anti-smoking campaign "Not In Mama's Kitchen."
"Women have tremendous influence on what is happening in their home," said Judith Margolis, the intervention and program specialist for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Office for the Prince George's County Public Schools. Margolis helped organize the campaign.
Ron Barrow, chairman of the Prince George's County Community Health Coalition, said a recent push to use mothers to take the message to their children is part of a larger strategy to reduce smoking by blacks in the county. Blacks are disproportionately affected by tobacco-related illness and death, he noted.
The county coalition, which is made up of government officials, clergy and community leaders, was created three years ago as part of the settlement in the tobacco lawsuits brought by a group of states. The group is using a three-pronged approach: the Mama campaign, a campaign using Biblical quotations and appearances by local athletes in schools to discourage smoking. There is also an effort to cite local merchants, who may be fined for selling tobacco products to minors.
With its large and growing black community, Prince George's is especially affected by tobacco. Smoking is a big cause of the problem, county health officials said. They cite local data showing that 30 percent of all blacks over age 18 in Prince George's say they have smoked, and 44 percent of all high school and middle school students in the county say they live in a home where somebody smokes. In addition, 50 percent of high school students indicated that they have tried cigarettes at last once, and 22 percent said they are regular smokers.
According to national statistics, 450,000 people die of cancer-related illnesses every year. Pat Sullivan, spokeswoman for the Prince George's County Health Department, said 1,200 county residents died of cancer in 2001.Although then-governor Parris N. Glendening (D) last year designated more than $30 million to go to anti-smoking campaigns, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), in his first budget, which he has said was tight because of money problems in the state, cut that to $18 million to be used for anti-smoking education. From the settlement of the tobacco lawsuits, Maryland is to get $4.4 billion, or $180 million per year over the next 25 years.
To help broaden anti-smoking education, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently awarded a $20,000 grant to Leslie Communications, a Landover firm to launch an anti-smoking campaign involving the county's faith community.
"We are targeting Prince George's County on a number of fronts," said John Leslie, who plans to distribute posters and pamphlets on Sundays. During a recent meeting of the community health coalition, Leslie showed one pamphlet in which scriptures are mixed with an anti-smoking message.
In one pamphlet, I Corinthians 3:16 is quoted: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you ? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are?"
II Corinthians 7:1 is also quoted from the King James: "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness, of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the feat of God."
The coalition also is using sports as a way to reach potential smokers. The Bowie Baysox have launched a program to have players visit five schools in the county to deliver an anti-smoking message to children who will then be invited to watch the minor league team play.
"We feel that our players are excellent role models because tobacco products are prohibited in the minor leagues,'' said Bill Snitcher, who handles corporate partnerships for the Baysox. He said the club is especially mindful of the anti-smoking message because the team's former general manager, John Danis, is a cancer survivor.
Meanwhile, Prince George's County's Health Department also is issuing civil citations to county merchants who are caught selling cigarettes to minors. Store employees can be fined up to $50, and the store's owners, even if they are not involved in the sale, can be fined $300.
"First we issued verbal warnings, then written warnings and now we are writing citations," said Ron Salisbury, a Health Department investigator. "We have issued about 19 citations [since December], and our biggest area of concern are these gas-and-go stations."
Salisbury said that in 2001 the Prince George's County Council passed a law that required merchants to control the sale of cigarettes behind the counter, similar to regulations in other Maryland jurisdictions. Cigarette sales to minors are already illegal.
"We want to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself," Barrow said.