Padres Unidos Links Tobacco with Health Care Access for Low-Income Immigrants

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Field of Work: Tobacco control in communities of color.

Problem Synopsis: People of color typically have higher rates of death and disease associated with tobacco use, according to research by the Praxis Project. However, relatively few tobacco-control policies have been enacted in communities of color. The vast majority of tobacco-control ordinances are enacted in small towns and suburban cities, rather than in the urban centers where people of color are more likely to live.

From 2002 to 2006, Policy Advocacy on Tobacco and Health (PATH), a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), provided funding and technical assistance to nine community-based organizations to work on tobacco policy initiatives designed to restrict smoking at the local level.

Tobacco control was not yet high on its agenda when Padres Unidos of Denver joined PATH in 2003. Though the effect of tobacco on the Latino population nationwide was alarming—with smoking rates rising among Latino youth and higher levels of exposure to tobacco smoke in the workplace than any other ethnic group—many other issues were also threatening Denver's Latino community.

Synopsis of the Work: PATH implemented a comprehensive strategy to strengthen minority-led, community-based coalitions that engage in tobacco policy change in communities of color.

After much deliberation, Padres Unidos co-director Ricardo Martinez and the Padres Unidos constituency decided to join the PATH effort provided that a share of the revenue from any tobacco tax increase be used to subsidize health care coverage for low-income and uninsured people.

Key Results: A tobacco tax hike raised $175 million a year, with $80.5 million earmarked for Medicaid and children's health care and another $33.25 million for health care for uninsured and medically indigent individuals.

In communities of color, addressing tobacco in the context of the many other problems that plague their communities makes sense, said Martinez. "Tobacco is a personal issue, a health issue, but it is also a social justice issue. If you can link up tobacco with other issues, it gives you the ability to mobilize people. Then you can sustain an initiative. It opens other doors."

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