Birmingham’s smoke-free Health District in Southside has launched

Birmingham’s smoke-free Health District in Southside has launched
A new day has dawned in Birmingham: The no-smoking district is open. Backed by several major health groups, smoking is prohibited on public property within the Health District, including city sidewalks. (contributed)

The smoke-free Health District on Birmingham’s Southside created by a City Council ordinance in October has launched. Smoking is now prohibited on public property within the Health District – including city sidewalks – and a website has been launched to help smokers and nonsmokers navigate the new law.

The Health District website at www.bhamhealthdistrict.com provides information including Frequently Asked Questions, a map of the district boundaries and how You Can Help, as well as resources to quit smoking.

It also offers guidance on what to do or not do to encourage a smoke-free environment in the Health District.

The Jefferson County Department of Health is one of several health-focused organizations that requested and advocated for the Health District, along with Children’s of Alabama, Cooper Green Mercy Health Services, Southern Research, UAB and UAB Medicine, and Veterans Affairs Medical Center. (contributed)

“Please don’t call the police about smoking in the district,” said Jefferson County Department of Health CEO Mark Wilson. “We hope the Health District will create a positive environment of awareness and support, and valuable first responder resources and communication systems should not be tied up. You can help by spreading the word about the smoke-free ordinance, as well as information and resources available through partner organizations and at www.bhamhealthdistrict.com, and areas where smoking may be allowed, if necessary.”

The Jefferson County Department of Health is one of several health-focused organizations that requested and advocated for the Health District, along with Children’s of Alabama, Cooper Green Mercy Health Services, Southern Research, University of Alabama at Birmingham and UAB Medicine, and Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The ordinance supplements the smoke-free policies of these organizations within the Health District. The Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center – for example – has a no-smoking policy.

“The VA went smoke-free nationwide in October,” said Birmingham VA Medical Center Director Stacy Vasquez, “and this ordinance will help us to focus even more on decreasing tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure for the health and well-being of those who serve or have served our country.”

Property owners within the district have the option to create designated smoking areas on land they own, if not prohibited by another ordinance. UAB’s university campus will remain smoke-, vape- and tobacco-free, per policy. At this time, a limited number of designated smoking areas will be offered on the UAB Medicine campus and Children’s of Alabama, where information and resources to help people quit smoking will be promoted.

“Evidence is clear that there is no safe level of first- or second-hand smoke,” said Susan Walley, M.D., physician at Children’s of Alabama and faculty in the UAB Department of Pediatrics. “It is our hope that, with improving access to tobacco quitting resources, information and encouraging changes in social norms, the Health District will decrease tobacco use and smoke exposure in Alabama.”

One goal of Birmingham’s new Health District is improving access and drawing greater attention to resources that can help people stop smoking. (contributed)

General resources to help people quit smoking like 1-800-QUIT-NOW and www.quitnowalabama.com are available to everyone and will be promoted through Health District initiatives. Partner organizations within the district offer additional resources many at no cost – to their employees, patients, students and others.

Children’s of Alabama, for example, offers nicotine replacement therapy on-site. Southern Research is a non-smoking campus and offers the American Cancer Society’s “Quit for Life” tobacco use cessation program to all employees at no cost. UAB offers counseling services and other resources to students, faculty, staff and patients.

A growing list of resources to help people quit smoking is available on the Ready to Quit page of the Health District website. Partner organizations plan to increase signs, communications and resources to provide encouragement and support to encourage good health.

Cooper Green Mercy Health Services is a partner in the initiative.

“More than 2.5 million of the 20-plus million Americans who died because of smoking in the last 50 years were nonsmokers affected by second-hand smoke,” said Cooper Green Deputy Director Laura Hurst. “It is vital that we support the community we serve, and the Health District will let people know they are not alone and that helpful resources are available.”

Research shows there is no safe level of either first- or second-hand smoke, says Dr. Susan Walley of Children’s of Alabama and UAB. (file)

The Health District fits hand-in-hand with another initiative that launched recently to move Alabama out from among the worst states in health outcomes like diabetes and heart disease, and into the 30s by 2030.

“UAB recently launched Live HealthSmart Alabama to significantly improve the health of Alabamians,” said UAB President and Southern Research interim CEO Ray L. Watts. “This Health District is one of the many initiatives we will advance through our unique ability to make our state healthier through our focus on education, research, innovation and economic development, patient care and community service.”

The smoke-free Health District ordinance was passed unanimously by the City Council, and related efforts are supported by the City of Birmingham.

“The entities within the Health District are leaders in promoting wellness through education, research and health care that help the residents of Birmingham, Jefferson County and beyond live better lives,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “I am grateful for the leadership of these organizations, and I join the Birmingham City Council in full support.”

To learn more about the dangers of smoking, read the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

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