City wants grant to battle smoking

The American Cancer Society asks smokers to give up the habit for one day today as part of the Great American Smokeout.

A $2 million federal grant could help St. Joseph fight an anti-smoking battle of its own with longer lasting results.

The City Council gave the City of St. Joseph Health Department the green light Monday to apply for the Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant — part of the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act of 2009. If the funding is approved, the health department will work with Heartland Health, the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services, Buchanan County, the St. Joseph School District, Missouri Western State University, the St. Joseph Youth Alliance and the University of Missouri to implement an anti-smoking marketing campaign, smoking cessation services and other programs.

City Health Director Debra Bradley provided statistics showing the severity of St. Joseph’s smoking problem among young people. According to a study from the health department and Heartland Health, 56 percent of local youths age 18 to 24 smoke, while roughly one in four adults are smokers.

Council member Mike Bozarth was the most vocal opponent of Monday’s resolution. As a smoker and opponent of expanded government regulations, Mr. Bozarth said he didn’t want the council to take part in a program that could restrict citizens’ personal choices.

City staff assured the council it would not use the grant to pursue a smoking ban.

“It’s not something we would push,” City Manager Vince Capell said. “There would have to be a grassroots effort to get enough signatures to put it on the ballot.”

A list of programs the grant would fund contains entries for “usage bans,” including a recommendation to organize grassroots efforts for a city- or countywide smoking ban in public places, increased enforcement of current smoking bans on school grounds, and possible zoning changes that would ban smoking on land zoned as a park or playground.

In a memo to the council, Ms. Bradley said the grant could be as simple as helping businesses and schools reduce smoking through education. Or, it could be more drastic.

“These changes could also be as broad as a vote of the people to make St. Joseph a smoke-free community.” Ms. Bradley wrote. “The health department will be a resource to the community whichever direction the citizens choose to go.”

A 2007 study from the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services asked Buchanan County residents to weigh in on a number of issues related to smoking. Among the findings, the study showed 54 percent of residents think smoking should be banned in restaurants. However, only 24 percent of those surveyed would approve similar restrictions for bars.

Mr. Capell said Monday that the City Council had the power to pass a smoking ban on its own, but recommended the council put the decision to St. Joseph voters if it wanted to address the issue.

Stephanie Malita, administrative aide at the health department, said the city expects to find out if it has received the grant this winter, with funding coming in as soon as January.


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