Educate and Act

Use these tools to increase awareness against tobacco use

By Drew Harris, MD, FCCP
Editor in Chief, CHEST Advocates
August 25, 2023

“Ew, gross.”

“Um, no way.”

“Of course not.”

Earlier this summer, I partnered with Dr. Melissa Keene, the medical director of a federally qualified health center in southwest Virginia, to talk about tobacco with middle school students. A few minutes after our arrival, it was clear to us that cigarettes weren’t cool anymore.

We asked hundreds of kids if they or their friends smoked cigarettes. The above quoted responses were repeated over and over.

Tobacco health advocates have spent decades working on public health messaging surrounding cigarette use, which is clearly working in this Virginian middle school.

Kids in front of a vaping display

Middle schoolers interact with educational materials about the negative health effects of tobacco use. Courtesy of Dr. Drew Harris.

Kids in front of a vaping display

Dr. Drew Harris partnered with Dr. Melissa Keene for an educational outreach program on smoking prevention. Courtesy of Dr. Drew Harris.

But our patients, friends, and family who are already dependent on tobacco products still face addiction, morbidity, and premature mortality. And the ever-changing forms of tobacco delivery pose new challenges for our collective cessation efforts.

This issue of CHEST Advocates features parents, lawyers, doctors, and nonprofit leaders who all share their inspiring stories of action in the fight against tobacco use.

Learn from tobacco experts, Dr. Susan Walley and Dr. Evan Stepp, about evidence-based approaches to tobacco cessation in young people—including why we should start having conversations by age 11 about smoking or vaping and why it’s important to inform youth about big tobacco marketing strategies.

Read an interview with Dr. Anne Melzer, who shares lessons from her career in tobacco advocacy centered in a US veteran population. Dr. Melzer suggests free resources that are available to all clinicians who sometimes struggle to help patients find the best way to quit.

Watch a video of Dr. Iyaad Hasan and Dr. Roy St. John, who run The Breathing Association, a nonprofit in Ohio serving individuals who are underinsured or uninsured. This organization offers a mobile medical unit that provides a free, evidenced-based program to help with smoking cessation via education, counseling, and personalized quit plans.

Learn from Natasha Phelps, JD, the Director of Equity-Centered Policies at The Center for Black Health & Equity. For more than 2 decades, this organization has focused on building community capacity to give local constituents the tools needed for sustainable health improvements, including tobacco cessation.

Hear from Dr. Panagiotis Behrakis, who—after decades of advocacy against tobacco use—the World Health Organization recognized in May for his Smoke Free Greece program. He explains why his work focuses on a two-pronged approach that places equal emphasis on both cessation and prevention.

Listen to a podcast featuring an amazing organization called Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes, which started in response to a predatory marketing strategy by a tobacco company in a school system.

See how CHEST is fighting the battle against smoking and vaping, as told by Dr. Frank Leone, Chair of the Tobacco/Vaping Work Group for the CHEST Health Policy and Advocacy Committee. And, lastly, interact with a timeline of CHEST’s advocacy work in tobacco cessation and regulation through the decades.

As Dr. Melzer so eloquently stated in her interview featured in this issue, “tobacco cessation is a process that belongs to everybody, and, therefore, sometimes to nobody.” We hope this issue will inspire you to advocate for your patients and partner with your communities in our shared mission to improve education, awareness, and action against tobacco use.

Vaping presentation

Dr. Drew Harris gets face time with teens at a Virginia middle school. One in 20 middle schoolers use a nicotine product at least once every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Courtesy of Dr. Drew Harris.