Wendy Sims-Moten: We’re one month in to new year’s resolutions, and we want to give an encouraging boost to anyone who has committed to reduce smoking, vaping and e-cigarettes. It’s my pleasure to speak with Shantal Hover-Jones, MPH, a health educator with the Tobacco Prevention Program at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. Shantal, tell us more about your work.
Shantal Hover-Jones: The Tobacco Prevention Program primarily focuses on systems and policy change in Santa Barbara County, working to protect all citizens from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and reducing youth access to tobacco.
While we currently do not have any cessation classes, we can assist in linking providers, pregnant women and parents to cessation resources such as the California Smokers’ Helpline, at 800.No.Butts and online. Additionally, staff and community partners work throughout the community to educate schools, parents and policymakers on the dangers of emerging products such as the JUUL and other flavored tobacco products.
WSM: What tobacco and policy changes have been happening?
SHJ: The most recent policy success has been in the city of Solvang. The city passed a smoke-free city ordinance on Nov. 13, regulating smoking in most outdoor public places, including entryways, dining areas, parks, service areas, public events and sidewalks in commercial zones.
The City Council adopted this ordinance following the lead of 104 other communities throughout the state of California. They become one of three smoke-free cities in Santa Barbara County, joining Carpinteria (2011) and Santa Barbara (2017).
The City of Santa Barbara has worked diligently in the past year to implement a comprehensive smoke-free city law, securing an $878,000 grant from the Justice Department to assist in enforcement and sign installation, and just received an additional $189,340 grant. The City of Santa Barbara Administrator’s Office will initiate smoke-free educational activities at school campuses. The city will provide personnel to address safety topics and serve as a liaison between the police department and the school staff.
Currently, the Tobacco Prevention Program and community partners are working to improve tobacco retail license laws in our cities. This is a type of policy that helps to hold retailers accountable for selling to underage youth, with stronger penalties for retailers near schools. The program is also educating on the dangers of flavored tobacco and the benefits of banning these flavored products in our local stores. Target areas for these policies will be the city and county of Santa Barbara and the city of Santa Maria. Parents and educators will be invaluable partners in our efforts to get these policies in place.
WSM: What would you like the community to know about vaping and e-cigs?
SHJ: There is a lot going on right now — most notably, the recent FDA announcement of intention to ban flavored e-cigarettes in retail stores and gas stations in an effort to reduce the popularity of vaping among young people.
This has primarily stemmed from the explosive popularity of a device known as the JUUL, a fairly new product on the market that contains pods with as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. The JUUL also is sleek and small, mimicking a common USB, which is easy to conceal and use in classrooms and on school campuses. Local schools report this has become a huge issue.
National studies indicate that vaping has increased nearly 80 percent among high-schoolers and 50 percent among middle-schoolers since last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Tobacco Survey. This is being called an epidemic, and youths are becoming addicted to nicotine at alarming rates all over the country.
Nicotine affects adolescent brain development, and e-cigarette use often leads youths to using traditional cigarettes when these products are not available. Efforts to reduce flavors will help curb the access to these products from local retail locations.
WSM: What specific concerns do you have around smoking and child development outcomes?
SHJ: Maternal smoking during pregnancy contributes to a variety of infant health and child development issues. Risks include preterm delivery, low birth weight, birth defects, and those who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome.
Quitting smoking can be hard, but it is one of the best ways a mother can protect herself and her baby’s health. Women who continue to smoke during pregnancy need additional support to encourage their attempts to quit. Project P.R.E.M.I.E. through Good Samaritan Shelter helps pregnant women recovering from substance abuse to quit smoking. This is a great local resource.
It is challenging not to have the local resources to fund cessation support groups or classes anymore. The Public Health Department is currently working to create and implement a new Cannabis Program. In this program, we will focus on educating the public and medical providers on the dangers of cannabis use in adolescents and pregnant and breastfeeding women. While the research is still developing, it is shown that cannabis use effects fetal brain development, and there is no known safe amount of marijuana to use while pregnant or breastfeeding. No matter how it’s used, THC always gets passed to your baby. The adolescent brain is also affected by use.
We hope to implement this new program with the help of community partners and health experts in states with experience in recreational cannabis and the health education that goes along with it. We look forward to partnering with First 5 providers and resource agencies to reach pregnant and breastfeeding women with this critical education.
WSM: What is your biggest challenge and why?
SHJ: One of our biggest challenges is the constant fight to reduce the availability of tobacco products and tobacco product marketing, including e-cigarettes and flavored products. The tobacco industry spends $8.7 billion a year on marketing their deadly products. Guess how much tobacco prevention efforts spend? Only $328 million. That is only 3 percent of what the tobacco companies spend to lure in new smokers and convince people to try these highly addictive products.
The good news is that California has the lowest tobacco use rate in the country, so we are using those resources well. Strong media campaigns and local policies are the key to this progress.
We are currently working on banning flavored tobacco products, including menthol, in several of our local communities. This is essential given the recent spike in adolescent e-cigarette use, where four out of five teens that use these products are using flavored products with youth-focused names such as mango sorbet, razzleberry ring pop and dragon’s blood.
WSM: What do you need most from the community?
SHJ: At the moment, we want to educate parents on the dangers of e-cigarette use, giving them the tools to have open and honest conversations about this with their teens. We need advocates in the cities of Santa Barbara and Santa Maria and county areas to help with advocating for the new flavor restriction policies. We also need 18- and 19-year-olds who want to earn money helping us to do undercover tobacco purchase operations to assess if local youth can buy tobacco in our retail stores. If you have someone who would like to support this work, contact our office at 805.681.5407 or email us at email@example.com.
When the community invests in CEASE, they build strong advocates who understand the tobacco issues that we face locally. These advocates and passionate community members make huge and lasting impacts on the tobacco policy landscape in Santa Barbara County. Ultimately, this will help to create a cleaner, healthier and safer community for all of us.
WSM: Where did you attend kindergarten?
SHJ: I attended kindergarten in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. My favorite part of kindergarten was the 365 days of sunshine and warm weather on the Big Island, which meant lots of outside play and adventure! I also enjoyed learning about the Hawaiian culture through special events where we learned traditional Hawaiian dance and field games.
WSM: That sounds heavenly! We are glad you’re here making Santa Barbara County a healthier place to be.
SHJ: I really believe that prevention will always be the key to success in health. When you look upstream at the problem, and take action at a systems and policy level, the result is systemic and lasting effects on the health of Californians.
Helping people and improving our communities through better health is a true passion for me. Previously, I worked one-on-one installing car seats for parents in need. Now I’m working to change the way cities operate to better protect our children and families from tobacco. I’m passionate about building a healthier and more equitable community.
— Wendy Sims-Moten is executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County. Click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.