Sociedad Latina Connects Tobacco Sales with the Health of Young People

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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.

In the 1990s, Massachusetts led the nation in anti-smoking programs, but from 2000 to 2004, the state cut its funding for tobacco prevention by 95 percent. One statistic is particularly sobering: the smoking rate among high school students, which had declined 41 percent between 1995 and 2003, remained virtually the same between 2003 and 2005.

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.

Sociedad Latina, a Boston-based youth organization that helps Latino youth stay in school, pursue academic achievement and learn marketable employment skills, joined PATH in 2003 with the goal of restoring some funding for youth tobacco prevention in the city.

Sociedad, along with two other neighborhood groups—Hyde Square Task Force and the Whittier Street Health Center—trained nine young people in community organizing and mobilized them to go into local stores and bodegas to see how tobacco was being marketed.

Key Results: The youth organizers co-authored an ordinance to:

  • Increase merchant tobacco permit fees.
  • Increase fines for retailers who sell tobacco to minors.
  • Institute a "three strikes" rule requiring community input before reissuing vendor licenses to merchants who have lost their licenses because of repeated sales to minors.

The proposed ordinance spurred a wave of protest by merchants, who argued they could not increase cigarette prices to cover higher fees because prices were set by the tobacco companies.

Sociedad hosted a Tobacco Education Day at City Hall with some 30 teenagers giving councilors and aides the facts about the impact of tobacco on young people. The youth also went to schools and other venues to get some 600 youth to sign a petition in support of the ordinance.

On December 8, 2004, the Boston City Council passed the ordinance. In July 2005, the Boston Tobacco Control Program reported that the rate of tobacco sales to youth had dropped from 15 percent to 6 percent.