Public health officials to attend tobacco education conference
ST. GEORGE - This week, local administrators from the Southwest Utah Public Health Department travel to Seattle to share their successes with tobacco education programs at a national conference of health professionals.
Ruthann Adams, director of health promotion, and Phil Hofling, tobacco program manager, will help health care professionals at the convention "Preventing Youth Access to Tobacco," to learn how to partner with schools and retailers in educational anti-tobacco programs.
The programs have experienced success in local schools and with retailers and were recognized by the National Association of City and County Health Officials in 2005 for the Model Practice Award. By partnering with tobacco outlets through a retailer tobacco educational program, the rate of sales to underage patrons dropped from 20 percent in 2001 to just 5 percent in 2005. The program trains retailers and their clerks about laws and regulations and appropriate identification techniques.
"We're excited to show the people how we've done this in a rural area, that it can be done to reduce your buy rate by partnering with retail stores and outlets," said Hofling.
Selling tobacco to underage patrons carries penalties for stores.
"The police will fine the clerk, but the health department will assess a civil fine because the retailer or owner is responsible for their employee," said Adams.
Prior to the health department's fine assessment employers would simply fire employees who sold to minors. That employee might then move to another store to sell once again to minors, Adams said.
"It was just like a revolving door - the kids got to where they knew who would sell to them," she said.
Today, records of those who've sold to minors are easier to track with identification cards issued to employees who participate in the retailer tobacco education program.
"We've been able to develop a very positive relationship through the partnerships with the stores we serve. They've been cooperative - it's been a win-win for the stores and the health department. Others across the nation can duplicate this program for their area," said Hofling.
Participation in the Gold Medal Schools program is voluntary, said Adams. Schools that accomplish their goals, such as writing anti-tobacco policies and offering 90 minutes per year of school-wide tobacco education, can earn up to $1,500 for their school over a three- to four-year period.
The purpose of spreading the message of anti-tobacco campaigns is to create a safe environment for children, said Adams.
"So that children will grow up in a tobacco-free environment and not even consider tobacco use," she said.