2019 was a big year for the UF Health Cancer Center’s Community Outreach and Engagement office in terms of impact on disseminating cutting-edge tobacco research and implementing broad policy change. While cigarette smoking continues to decline in Florida, rates in our catchment area remain some of the highest in the state, and lung cancer is the number one diagnosed cancer in our 22-county catchment area. With these statistics in mind, the COE office set its sights on a multi-level strategy to address tobacco use guided by the efforts of our partners – Tobacco Free Alachua and Suwannee River Area Health Education Center.
In January 2019, “Tobacco 21,” a county-wide policy that raises the legal age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21 and creates a 1000-foot buffer for tobacco sales around schools, was passed unanimously by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners. This decision was a historic win, as Alachua County became the first county in Florida to implement this important policy change and came after years of work by Tobacco Free Alachua, a dedicated group that works to envision “A Tobacco Free Life for All Floridians.” Sarah M. Szurek, Ph.D., Community Outreach and Engagement’s program director, and other UF faculty and staff went on official record at the County Commission hearing to present data on the catchment area’s tobacco use and lung cancer burden. The work of Tobacco 21 continues as well as our partnership with Tobacco Free Alachua to oversee policy implementation by disseminating the regulations to local businesses and sharing strategies within and beyond our catchment area.
In May 2019, Suwannee River Area Health Education Center held its Annual Rural Tobacco Summit. The Community Outreach and Engagement office facilitated this outreach event by supporting the travel of two UF researchers, Ramzi Salloum, Ph.D., and Jaclyn Hall, Ph.D. Dr. Salloum presented his research on how informational inserts in tobacco packages have been successful in other countries, and Dr. Hall talked about correlations between dollar stores selling tobacco and tobacco use in rural communities. The summit also discussed ongoing and broad systems change, as Area Health Education Center Program Offices and Centers work extensively with health care systems to integrate strategies that ensure tobacco use is assessed and treated at every patient encounter. The summit successfully engaged tobacco control advocates, hospital administrators, researchers and clinicians to identify solutions to impact tobacco use disparities in rural communities.