Tobacco/Substance-Free Living Group Focuses: Awareness, Policy & Oversight

Date Published: 02/28/17 12:04:pm

When Heal Reno County kicked off its Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Kansas Pathways to a Healthy Kansas grant in early November of 2016, only one person expressed an interest in joining the efforts of the Tobacco/Substance-Free Living Work Group. A lot has changed since November!

“Now, just a few months later, we’ve really built some momentum and increased membership,” Sondra Borth, Chair of the work group shared. “We have 13 members; nine adults and four youth. The voices of smokers and those in recovery are represented among the group’s members, and having youth involved is also very important. I’m a firm believer that the voice of youth is helpful and necessary as we do this work because their ideas are valuable, and they will be impacted most by any policy changes in these areas.”

March is a busy month for Heal’s Tobacco/Substance-Free Living work group and their efforts to increase awareness of the harms of tobacco. Kick Butt’s Day, a national day to speak out against the use of tobacco and the big tobacco industry’s influence on youth, is March 15th. The work group has been collaborating with Reno County Communities That Care(CTC) to coordinate activities during week that draw attention to the harms of tobacco use. For example, CTC members at Hutchinson High School will hang informational posters and one day 55 students and adults will wear black t-shirts with the number 55 on the front, illustrating a staggering statistic – Every hour, 55 people in the U.S. lose their lives to tobacco-related diseases.

Turning awareness of the adverse effects of substance use into public support for systems and policy changes is another charge of this work group. In the upcoming year, members will focus on:

  • Supporting the implementation the designated smoking areas at the Kansas State Fair
  • Smoke-free parks in the city of Hutchinson
  • Building support for Tobacco 21 initiatives locally

Along with involvement in awareness initiatives taking place at area schools, youth are key in affecting systems and policies changes as they prepare and make presentations to the City Council about proposed policy changes. The Reno County Health Department supports the work group and CTC by providing resources and information as needed.

Anna Brown, Data and Quality Supervisor for Reno County Health Department and member of the Tobacco/Substance-Free Living work group, said, “We are very lucky to have Reno County CTC in our community, so we already have a lot of youth who are engaged and interested in tobacco control and substance prevention. Having the CTC director (Borth) as our work group chair has been terrific. She’s amazing, and collaborations come naturally as we let the youth take the lead on our efforts.”

The Tobacco/Substance-Free Living work group also provides oversight to and collaborates with the Reno County Health Department through work on the Chronic Disease Risk Reduction Grant program. CDRR funds, which come from the Master Tobacco Settlement of the late 1990’s, are used to work not only on tobacco cessation initiatives but also toward improved opportunities for physical activity, policies related to nutrition and chronic disease and other health-related systems and environment changes.

For more information about the Tobacco/Substance-Free Living work group, contact Sondra Borth at or share your interest in joining the group here. Regular meetings occur on the second Wednesday of the month at 4 p.m.

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