Texas Case Study
Local Comprehensive Clean Indoor Air Ordinance in Texas
What is the policy and/or program intervention designed to do?
The El Paso ordinance is designed to protect nonsmoking employees and patrons from the health effects of secondhand smoke in workplaces and public places. The ordinance covers all workplaces and public places, including restaurants, bars, bingo facilities, and bowling alleys.
Explain the implementation of the policy and/or program intervention.
The coalition formed a Clean Indoor Air Ordinance Task Force to serve as the core team, responsible for developing a campaign plan and directing day-to-day campaign operations (approximately 10–15 members). The coalition developed a job description for task force members, clearly spelling out responsibilities and time commitment.
The coalition strategically recruited key community leaders and gate keepers to join the task force. In addition to the voluntary health agencies, key supporters included Community Voices Tobacco Control Program (a project funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation and the American Legacy Foundation), the state and local health departments, local law enforcement, local hospitals and community clinics, Planned Parenthood, the Independent School District and the Region 19 Education Center, a coalition of churches, faculty from the University Health Sciences Center, a waiter/bartender, and a supportive (behind-the-scenes) local restaurant. The Tobacco-Free Las Cruces Coalition mentored the task force in the early stages of the campaign.
The coalition also developed a Youth Coalition, recruiting young people with the help of the independent school districts. The young people set three goals for themselves: (1) generate letters to the editor; (2) hold a rally on the day of the city council's public hearing; and, (3) testify at the public hearing.
In April 2001, the El Paso City/County Health and Environmental District held its public hearing on the ordinance. The district passed the ordinance and sent it on to the city council for consideration. Council member Larry Medina attended this hearing. Councilman Medina emerged as the ordinance champion at the first council discussion of the ordinance in April. The council delayed scheduling a formal hearing on the ordinance for several months, because of upcoming city elections.
The coalition launched a letter-writing campaign to the El Paso Times, which generated more than 7,000 letters (copies of letters were sent to the city council). Members of the youth coalition were vital contributors to the letter-writing campaign. The coalition conducted a proactive media advocacy campaign educating reporters, monitoring media coverage, and following-up to correct any misinformation. The coalition's media efforts paid off, over the course of the campaign the El Paso Times ran 7 supportive editorial columns. In addition to media advocacy, the coalition placed some very limited paid media, airing an educational TV spot on secondhand smoke and running one paid print advertisement, both shortly before the council vote.
The coalition established a petition gathering effort, largely coordinated by a member who served on a local coalition of churches. Petitions were copied and provided to the entire city council.
The coalition held multiple meetings with council members, preferring to meet in teams of three: a coalition member, a constituent to talk about his/her personal experience, and a person known to have influence with the council member. Many organizations, particularly the public agencies and the ACS project funded by the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, could not directly lobby on behalf of the ordinance. However, they could, and did, engage in all educational activities. Those who could lobby included the voluntary health agencies and individual supporters. Throughout this process, the coalition remained in close contact with Councilman Medina, who kept them informed of behind-the-scenes lobbying and politicking. Once the election season was in motion, coalition members, including youth representatives, attended candidate forums.
The coalition developed a database of supporters, drawn largely from people who signed the petitions. Most action alerts were sent by e-mail, although the coalition also faxed and/or phoned supporters who didn't have e-mail access. In addition, the various organizational members of the coalition sent e-mail and direct mail action alerts to their members, staff, and constituencies.
Although the coalition had planned to conduct a poll, this was rendered moot when the local media (the El Paso Times and the ABC affiliate) ran their own poll, which found strong support for the ordinance (69% of registered voters overall, 77% of registered Hispanic voters).
On the day of the hearing, the Youth Coalition held a rally outside city council chambers. Youth also testified during the hearing, urging the council to consider the legacy they would leave for the next generation of El Pasoans. The coalition organized the testimony for the public hearing, giving each speaker a specific topic to cover (and reviewing the youth testimony). Speakers included respected physicians, youth, workers, asthmatics, and a city council member from Las Cruces to speak about that town's experience going smoke-free. The coalition packed the council chamber with supporters, wearing flashing buttons to visibly demonstrate their support for the ordinance.
On June 26, 2001, the El Paso City voted 7 to 1 in favor of the ordinance.
Following enactment of the ordinance, the local Restaurant Association seemed resigned to complying with the new ordinance. However, the bars organized and continued to agitate against the ordinance, attempting to collect enough signatures to force the ordinance to a referendum. The coalition closely tracked this effort, which failed to collect enough valid signatures to qualify (in part because the petitions were not uniform in their language). Opponents also attempted to place the ordinance back on the city agenda for discussion. Coalition members monitored the council agenda, and sent representatives when the ordinance was listed. After opponents failed to show up twice after asking for discussion, the council stopped putting the issue on the agenda.
To prepare for the effective date, the coalition worked with the Health and Environmental District to develop materials for an educational mailing to 18,000 El Paso businesses. The packet included a letter from the Mayor and the Health and Environmental District Medical Director, no-smoking decals for businesses to display, an educational brochure developed by ACS, and a sample written no-smoking policy for businesses to share with employees developed by AHA.
The El Paso Tabaco/Smoke Free Coalition was formed in 1994. The same year, the coalition presented a proposal to strengthen the city smoking ordinance to the El Paso City-County Health and Environmental District. Although the Health and Environmental District approved the proposal, the ordinance faltered in the city council (Health and Environmental District policies must be approved by the city). In March 1996 the council tabled the proposed ordinance indefinitely.
Coalition members were ambivalent about the strength of the proposed ordinance. At that time, representatives from the El Paso Restaurant Association sat on the coalition and on the Health Board subcommittee formed to draft the proposed ordinance; their presence led to weaker smoking restrictions than the coalition had hoped for.
Despite the setback in 1996, the coalition did not abandon its goal of passing a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance. In January 2000, the American Cancer Society received a grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation to conduct a 4-year comprehensive tobacco control project. As part of this project, the coalition reorganized itself as the Smoke-Free Paso del Norte Coalition, and planned to organize a 2-year public education and grassroots campaign with the goal of passing an ordinance in 2003. However, the coalition's hand was forced when the El Paso City-County Health and Environmental District announced its intention to introduce an ordinance in September of 2000.
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