Updated: September 2020
Author: Tobacco Control Program, Vermont Department of Health
Reducing secondhand smoke exposure is one of the major objectives of the Vermont Department of Health's Tobacco Program. Nationally the rate of exposure to secondhand smoke has been decreasing; however, in Vermont adult exposure has not significantly changed from 2008 (56%) to 2016 (50%). The Vermont Tobacco Control Plan has a goal of reducing exposure from 44% in 2016 to 35% among nonsmokers by 2020 (ATS 2016).
The Vermont Tobacco Program funds 14 community grantees and the Agency of Education funds 18 supervisory unions to host school-based youth groups for tobacco prevention activities including what is termed by the CDC as state and community interventions. Examples of interventions include protective policies including local secondhand smoke ordinances. These are official town or city policies that create smoke-free spaces – for example, town greens, town office campuses, and parks and recreational areas. Community grantees and their youth allies help to educate policymakers about the benefits of smoke-free policies, which include reducing secondhand smoke exposure and creating positive social norms that discourage youth initiation and promote cessation.
In state Fiscal Year 2020, there were a total of four smoke-free town ordinances passed to reduce the impact of secondhand smoke on Vermont communities, statewide. The Town of Danville in partnership with the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH) passed an exciting policy early in 2020. Recognizing that the use of tobacco/marijuana/alcohol products at the town beach property is detrimental to the health and welfare of town residents, the town adopted a 100% Tobacco/Substance-Free Area Policy for Joe's Pond Town Beach. The policy prohibits all smoking/vaping, alcohol consumption and the use of all tobacco/marijuana products 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This effort is credited to prevention advocates at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital and supported by a grant from the Tobacco Control Program; see news coverage here.
In St. Albans, the Franklin Grand Isle Tobacco Prevention Coalition (FGI) helped to pass a smoke-free and vape-free ordinance for all municipal properties, effective September 1, 2020. This ordinance passed after years discussion and consideration to protect the St. Albans parks and recreation areas as well as the St. Albans community residents.
In Windsor, the Mt. Ascutney Prevention Partnership (MAPP) worked with the Windsor Select Board to pass a smoke-free and vape-free town-owned parks and land ordinance, also to go into effect September 2020. MAPP leaders worked hard to demonstrate the need and desire for this ordinance through visual surveys of tobacco litter as well as a town survey with questions around support for smoke/vape free town-owned parks and land. 85% of responders supported this initiative and 93% supported smoke/vape-free town events.
The Collaborative, serving Bennington County, helped address second hand smoke exposure in the sidewalks adjacent to early education and high school campuses. In partnership with the Vermont Department of Health, the Alliance for Community Transformations, and Blueprint for Health, The Collaborative met with the supervisory union leadership to request their support for making adjacent sidewalks smoke free, which they agreed to! As of March 1, 2020, Bennington secured 14 smoek and vape free signs and key visual points designating six sidewalks smoke and vape free.
Whether a town adopts a smoke-free policy can depend upon several factors including:
- Community support for the policy
- Youth engagement in educating on the need for a policy
- Political will among local decision makers
- Presence of community champions who work for the policy over the long term
This performance measure fluctuates from fiscal year based on local leadership awareness, the frequency of town meetings, recent events such as the passing of protective policies in a nearby town, and the grant cycle. Community grantees receive grants on the state fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. Often grantees work on new initiatives in the first one or two quarters and see results in quarters three and four of their grants, i.e. January through June of each year, with increased activity around Town Meeting Day in March. Also, it is common practice for grantees to work on educating for protective language over several years; this effort can remain in the grantee's workplan until final adoption and implementation.