UTEP Tobacco Research Has Positive Impact on Communities

Originally published March 13, 2015

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

In 2015, A Smoke Free Paso del Norte celebrates 15 years in the community and achievements such as making El Paso one of the first cities in the nation to pass a comprehensive clean air ordinance in 2002.

In 2014, The University of Texas at El Paso announced its smoke- and tobacco-free campus policy and the City of El Paso rolled out major modifications to its tobacco ordinance.

A Smoke Free Paso del Norte, which was funded and launched in 1999 by the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, is managed by principal investigator (PI) Theodore Cooper, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at UTEP, and program manager and co-PI Nora Hernandez.

Program campaigns have included the Set Your Date tobacco cessation media campaign (which offers options to Quit by Phone or Quit Online) and powerful testimonials via Tell It Like It Is television commercials. The Squad web series and Live Outside the Pack tween and youth tobacco prevention media campaigns have proved successful at reaching younger audiences with important prevention messages.

“An initiative like A Smoke Free Paso del Norte enables the coordination of multiple elements to promote comprehensive community tobacco control,” Hernandez said.

Over a period of 10 years, El Paso had a six percent decrease in prevalence of daily smokers and a seven percent decrease in the prevalence of established smoking. This proved that A Smoke Free Paso Del Norte’s coordinated tobacco control activities in El Paso are related to cessation among daily smokers and prevention of established smoking at the population level.

As shown in the team’s published article in the American Journal of Public Health, similarly sized and populated cities in Texas – including Austin, Round Rock and San Antonio – with less coordinated tobacco control efforts did not observe similar trends.

A Smoke Free Paso Del Norte has been pinpointed as a model for what other communities around the region or the country aim to do. The Texas Council on Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke recognized A Smoke Free Paso del Norte as an outstanding community program for 2007 Texas Cardiovascular Health Promotion.

Representatives of the initiative have been invited to present their work at national and international conferences, including the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco Annual Meeting and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Annual Convention.

Most recently, the Communities Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) invited Cooper to join a panel at its 25th annual National Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., to show how the Paso del Norte Tobacco Control Network’s outreach has impacted the community.

Holly Mata, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral research fellow in UTEP’s Hispanic Health Disparities Research Center who now works for the YMCA of El Paso, collaborated with her UTEP colleagues on youth development programs for the Housing Authority of the City of El Paso (HACEP), which expanded to tobacco prevention because the vulnerable population in public housing has higher rates of smoking due to poverty and lack of health care access.

“This has been my favorite project of all time because of the range of people in the community who have been involved,” said Mata, who has been working in public health for decades.

She served as principal investigator on a project for HACEP funded by A Smoke Free Paso Del Norte titled “Our Homes, Our Health: Smoke Free Policy in Public Housing.” (UTEP News previously covered Mata’s project here.)

“Everyone should have the right to breathe clean air – and now, people who live in subsidized public housing in El Paso will have that right, too,” Mata said. “Other property managers and apartment complexes will likely follow their example, and A Smoke Free Paso del Norte will be supporting these efforts.”

Reyna Puentes, graduate research assistant, began working with A Smoke Free Paso Del Norte in fall 2014. She has handled data, represented the program at health fairs throughout the region and offered smoking cessation services to the community.

“Working with A Smoke Free Paso del Norte has definitely pointed me in the right direction, in terms of my research interests and post-academic goals,” Puentes said. “I will carry my experiences with this organization on as I hope to continue working in the fields of smoking cessation, addictive behaviors and health promotion.”

Future activities for A Smoke Free Paso Del Norte include a tobacco prevention and cessation campaign targeted toward young adults, workshops and training for network members, and promoting clean air advocacy activities in municipalities that currently are not protected.

Sue Beatty, the heath education and training manager for the City of El Paso’s Department of Public Health, is eager to continue the partnership with A Smoke Free Paso Del Norte. “They have proven to be a leader for tobacco control issues in our region, and together with all of our partners, we will continue to work toward a smoke-free environment,” she said.