Smoke Free in Port Lavaca

Signy SizerEditor's Note: Methodist Healthcare Ministries' Wesley Nurses are known to provide health education and coordination of care in the communities where they serve across South Texas. What many folks may not know, is that they are also advocates for local health initiatives that impact communities far beyond the walls of the church where they serve.

Signy Sizer, a Wesley Nurse in Port Lavaca, recently had an opportunity to support the passage of a 'Smoke Free' ban in her community, and her experience is a testament to the diverse, and indispensable, part Wesley Nurses play in influencing population health.

We caught up with Signy to learn about the Smoke Free ban in Port Lavaca and the part she played in its passage.

Question: What was the initiative and how did you get involved?
In April, 2015, Port Lavaca City Council instituted a city ordinance to ban smoking in public places. This ban was lifted in August when registered voters petitioned to either have the ordinance repealed, or to call a special referendum. This is when my husband and I became involved, calling city council members, and encouraged friends to do the same, to let council know we supported the ordinance and did not want the issue dropped.

smoke freeQuestion: How does this type of local policy issue fit into the work you do in the Wesley Nurse Program?
"Smoke Free Port Lavaca" is important to me personally as well as professionally. Secondhand smoke is serious concern for employees of businesses where smoking is allowed. Third-hand smoke extends exposure to families and can cause long term health risks. There are few employment opportunities in small towns, and, as we are well aware, employers of restaurants and bars do not typically offer health insurance. People most affected by second/third-hand smoke are MHM's target audience, those most vulnerable within our communities.

"Smoke Free" campaigns align perfectly with the Wesley Nurse role of assisting individuals and communities achieve improved health and wellness, as well as MHM's value of "Making a Difference."

Question: Who were some of the other players in this effort, and were there any challenges you faced?
I give my husband credit for spearheading this challenge. He enlisted friends who worked the "Smoke Free Victoria" campaign. With their help he connected with Blake Windham, Texas Grassroots Management of the American Cancer Society (ACS); Jay Arnold, Senior Director of Local Policy, American Heart Association; and Jim Arnold, Arnold Public Affairs. This group met with our small grassroots team weekly and they directed the campaign. Vicki Krcha, Wesley Nurse district manager, encouraged me to contact Chris Yanas, MHM's director of governmental affairs too. On behalf of MHM, Chris contacted local city officials. She followed our campaign progress, lending support and practical advice.

It was so interesting to work with the policy staff and to be a part of their strategy sessions. Their advice included: don't engage in 'Smoke Free' arguments—keep your focus on health, and keep the initiative low key; talk to people you know and encourage those who are in agreement to vote! So that's what we did.

We retrieved voting lists, posted signs and talked to individuals. The ACS provided funding for telephone polls and reminders to vote for those who were voiced agreement with "Smoke Free," as well as signage and mail-outs. Local physicians served as media spokespersons. ACS also posted a "Smoke Free Port Lavaca" Facebook page. Comments on the Facebook page were negative and the ACS staff warned us that they were very concerned about the election outcome.

Question: What was the outcome of the campaign and all your efforts?
The good news is Port Lavaca voters endorsed "Smoke Free Port Lavaca," 696 to 213 in the November 3rd election! This change can only improve the quality of life for citizens of Calhoun County.

I learned to: get help from people who have experience; talk to your friends, neighbors and acquaintances—you never know who will be your strongest ally. Be resourceful and stay positive!

MHM employees have a passion for total wellness for all. You just never know where this journey may lead you.