Health fair breeds quitters

Dozens of people turned out when The Sister to Sister Study, an MCG outreach initiative designed to help women in public housing quit smoking, hosted a health fair for the residents of both Olmstead Homes and Hall Powell Apartments on July 30.

Residents and members of the study’s Neighborhood Advisory Board (NAB) collaborated with Dr. Martha Tingen, the site principal investigator, and Rev. Dr. Marietta Conner, chaplain to organize an event that promoted an overall healthy and tobacco-free environment for the neighborhood.

“It’s always easier to say no and don’t start than it is to start and try to stop,” Tingen said.

So the NAB, directed by Conner, wrote, directed and acted in a play called Smoking Can Shorten Your Life, which was designed with prevention in mind. Tobacco kills more people than AIDS, alcohol, car crashes, murders, suicides, and fires combined, according to the study’s coordinators. Yet, more than 4,000 persons under the age of 18 become smokers every day. So the play demonstrated how addiction commandeers decision-making, embezzles funds from other parts of a household budget and ruins relationships.

“They could relate to that,” Conner said, especially after one resident shared that she believed her change in habits had allowed her to start a new relationship.

After the play, community members were offered blood pressure and carbon monoxide screenings, along with information on nutrition and exercise. Tingen provided the children with a demonstration from the LifeSkills Training program on the effects smoking can have on your body. Since school began the week after the event, the first 50 children to arrive at the event were given a bag of school supplies containing a notebook, folder, pencil, pen, eraser, glue stick and a ruler.

Previously, the NAB planned activities to encourage smokers to be more responsible when discarding their used cigarettes. Community members decorated flowerpots to be used for collecting butts, and Conner estimates an 80 percent improvement in the trash that accumulates as the result of smokers.

Providing a trash receptacle to current smokers may seem slightly outside the hope of the study coordinators. But the behaviors that are the hallmarks of tobacco addiction can be as harmful as the addiction.

“Yes, the goal is for them to quit,” Tingen said, the site principal investigator for the multi-site study funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. “But the reality is that stopping smoking can inspire them to take on other challenges.”

The Centers for Disease Control reports that the prevalence of smoking is higher among adults living below the poverty level (32.9 percent) than among those who live at or above the poverty level (22.2 percent). So these secondary results may be particularly life changing.

“One woman said that since she had been able to stop smoking with the help of the study, she could do other things and was looking into going to college,” Tingen said.

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