Local News

Story published: 07-22-2014 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Tobacco grant geared toward improving children’s health

By Karen Sells
Assistant Editor

In only its first few months of implementation, a new program to raise awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke in families is already having a positive impact.

Made possible by a grant of almost $250,000 from the Tennessee Department of Health, the Clinical Effort Against Secondhand Smoke Exposure is helping county residents kick the habit.

The CEASE program is offered by the Washington County-Johnson City Health Department, which received the first of three grant installments of $82,500 during March.

A portion of the funds was designated to hire a part-time employee who will serve as a health educator and oversee the program. “We thought to give it the emphasis it needed, it was imperative to have one person focused on the program,” Health Department Director Tim Carson said.

Dawn Sharp’s first day as public health educator was April 7, though she was no stranger to CEASE. Sharp served as an intern with the Health Department last year and helped write the program for Washington County.

The goals of the CEASE program in Washington County are to reduce the secondhand and third-hand smoke exposure of children; reduce asthma attacks and emergency room visits of children due to smoke exposure; improve the health outcomes of families; decrease the health-care cost of secondhand smoke exposure; educate and provide awareness to the community about the dangers of secondhand smoke; and assist and support family members who wish to quit smoking.

“CEASE originated at Massachusetts General Hospital, which did a five-year study on addressing secondhand smoke and came up with the idea,” Sharp said. “They found people are more willing to listen when they’re a parent rather than a patient.”

The effort is beginning with local pediatricians who are being asked to counsel their patients and families on the dangers of secondhand smoke, which can worsen children’s bronchitis or asthma and cause chronic ear and respiratory infections.

Sharp has already visited all of the pediatrics offices in Washington County to share information about the CEASE program, and is moving on to the family practice offices. “The doctors’ offices are very excited we’re able to offer a no-cost option for secondhand smoke,” she said.

The CEASE Implementation Guide leads offices through the three steps needed to address family smoking. Step one involves asking families about tobacco use and rules about smoking in the home and car. Step two offers assistance to families with smoking cessation and secondhand smoke exposure reduction, while step three provides referrals to outside help for families who use tobacco.

In addition to counseling from the physicians’ offices, adults can participate in the eight-week Freedom from Smoking class provided by the Health Department, which offers incentives to stop smoking and addresses concerns like weight gain by offering healthier alternatives.

Sharp is also working with local pharmacies to try and secure discounts for smoking cessation products such the nicotine pill or patch.

One option not recommended to help smokers kick the habit are electronic cigarettes. “We do not encourage e-cigarettes,” Sharp said. “They are not FDA regulated, and using them is an easy way to get nicotine poisoning for the child and the user.”

According to Sharp, it’s impossible to know how much nicotine e-cigarettes contain, and there is no child-proofing on the nicotine cartridge. “The Health Department has taken a stand, and they are not recommended as a cessation product,” she said.

Four Freedom from Smoking classes, which have seen success in many of their participants, have been offered through the grant, in addition to a variety of presentations for children at school functions. “We did one on e-cigarettes for parents on the last day,” Sharp noted.

The CEASE program also will be shared at public events. “We will be out in the community at the Farmers Markets in Johnson City and Jonesborough and at health fairs,” she said.

Calls also have been received from nursing homes and assisted living facilities with patients who use e-cigarettes.

“I think this is the most excitement about smoking cessation that there’s been in a long time,” Carson said.

Sharp compared receiving the grant to winning the lottery. “To have the option to design a program that works best in your community is not often possible in public health,” she said. “And we’re able to offer it at no cost.”

The expense of smoking may be an incentive for those who want to quit, Sharp pointed out. “We’ve done a cost education where we added it up, and after 10 years you could buy a nice home with that money, or at least a very nice car,” she said.

The Freedom from Smoking classes are available for anyone who is interested, according to Sharp. “We’re not limiting who can come, and you don’t need a referral.” The next two classes will start at the end of August.

The CEASE program will be offered during all three years of the grant. “The next step is to address maternal smoking, which we will do next year through the Baby and Me program,” Sharp said. “We will address teen smoking in the third year of the grant.”

Carson said the Health Department is pleased to be offering the CEASE program to its own staff. “The employees have been amazing,” he said.

Sharp agreed. “We’re all excited and passionate about it,” she said. “For every person I can get to quit smoking, it’s a savings in health-care costs and added longevity for their life.”

Anyone interested in requesting a presentation or becoming involved in the program can contact Sharp at 975-2200 or email the Health Department at www.washingtoncountytn.com.