Citizens evaluate Phila. tobacco policy in public Smoke Signals forum

    The Philadelphia Department of Public Health wants to hear your feedback on nine tobacco-control ideas in a series of community forums called Smoke Signals. The next session is aimed at residents of Northwest Philadelphia.


    What would you support to reduce the use of tobacco by the residents of Philadelphia: Higher taxes on cigarettes? Warning signs at store counters where cigarettes are sold? Bans on sales of tobacco in pharmacies? Near schools?

    Bans on smoking in public housing, even in individual units? Bans on smoking in parks?

    What about encouraging employers not to hire smokers? Or does that go too far?

    If any of those ideas provoked a strong reaction from you, pro or con, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health wants to hear your feedback.

    Working with WHYY/NewsWorks and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, the department is holding a series of community forums, called Smoke Signals. The goal is to gather your opinions on the tobacco control options that the city is considering—or that have been tried elsewhere.

    The next session is aimed at residents of Northwest Philadelphia.

    It will be held Thursday night at the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, 35 W. Chelten Ave. Registration and refreshments will be at 6:30 p.m. with the program beginning at 7 p.m.

    Moderators trained by the PPCE will lead participants through a point by point discussion of the policy options. Department of Public Health staffers will be there to listen and answer your questions.

    To get a taste of what the sessions are like, watch the video above by NewsWorks’ Kim Paynter. Or look further down for a report on a session held last week at WHYY.

    To register, email, or call 215-898-1112.



    This report on the Sept. 26 Smoke Signals section was filed by PPCE moderator Kiki Bolender.


    This group consisted of three women and two men, all white, and all but one younger woman appeared to be in their 50s and 60s.

    Here is why they came:

    One woman’s company asked her to attend. She works with teens and older adults, and smoking comes up as an issue.

    A man sees lots of people smoking as he walks through Center City. Recently he saw a man at the corner of 15th and Walnut giving packs of cigarettes to kids who looked to be about 12 years old.

    Another woman started smoking when she was 3 or 4—taking cigarettes from her parents, playing cool with candy and gum cigarettes. She remembers machines for kids that dispensed replicas of cigarettes. She was smoking on her way to school in the 7th grade, then smoked Virginia Slims (targeted at women) in college. It took her 5 or 6 tries, but she has not smoked for 12 years.

    The next woman works in health care and has seen many people with problems with tobacco, but it has also made her feel sympathy for addicts. When she was 10 she wanted to try her mother’s cigarettes. Mom said fine, but it will make you pretty sick, so wait until Dad comes home. Helped by the power of suggestion, she tried the cigarette, felt awful, and never took up smoking.

    One man is severely allergic to cigarette smoke, and will get a terrible headache if he passes someone who is smoking. He mentioned the arrogance of smokers and the litter.

    The group discussed each policy option and placed in it one of four categories:

    Slam dunk—definitely do this.
    No way, no how—definitely do not do this.
    Close call, but yes
    Close call, still no


    Action 1: Health warnings near cash registers—SLAM DUNK

    + Cost effective+ Easy, cheap, factual+ City posting of calorie counts had been helpful– Difficult to enforce– Possible litigation would be expensive for City

    The question “Who implements this policy, the city or private store owners?” was important to the group.

    Action 2: Restrictions on advertising in retail establishmentsSLAM DUNK

    Same reasons as Action 1.

    Action 3A: Ban on smoking in public housingNOT SURE, LEANING TO NO

    + Offer incentives instead of penalties, like restaurant gift certificates.– Residents are already vulnerable; you are hitting them when they’re down.– Problems with enforcement.– Problems with fairness, like getting in trouble for a guest’s smoking.

    The conversation felt like a slam dunk, but the votes did not support it.

    Action 3B: Allow (support?) private condo buildings to ban smokingSLAM DUNK

    Sure, why not? It is probably legal to do so now.

    Action 4: Prohibit smoking in parksSLAM DUNK

    Define a “small park,” and make it realistic.

    Action 5: No sales at pharmaciesNOT SURE, LEANING TO NO

    – So, where would they be sold?– CVS is more visible, more mainstream, has more to lose if they cheat.– CVS already sells all sorts of things that are bad for you.– Buyers will migrate to mom-and-pops, creating an underground culture.

    Action 6: No sales near schoolsNOT SURE

    – What’s near? Everything is near a school in a dense urban area– Seems ineffective

    Action 7: Increase pricesNOT SURE, LEAN TO NO

    + Good correlation between high prices and lower smoking rates.– Regressive, punitive tax. Look at a map of low income and high sales.– Someone’s mother stopped buying blood pressure meds in order to buy cigarettes. She would buy no matter what the cost.

    Discussion of two types of addiction—alcohol is more dangerous to the public.

    Action 8: Encourage employers to offer health insurance for quit-smoking medicationsSLAM DUNK

    – Employers might drop other kinds of coverage.

    Don’t cover more expensive or exotic treatment.

    Action 9: Encourage private employers to not hire smokersNO HOW, NO WAY

    + Offer incentives and bonuses for non-smokers.

    What you do outside work is outside as long as you can do your job.

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