The Alaska statewide smoke-free law passed in July of 2018, going into effect on October 1, 2018. The law passed with an opt out clause. This means that any governing body on a local community level can potentially opt out of the law if proper procedures are followed for inclusion on a regular election ballot for city voters. An ordinance was drafted and supported by two Assembly members, but was eventually voted down. However, one local bar owner brought forth a petition with enough verified signatures to get the opt out on the ballot. A local coalition that works against substance abuse led by Sitka Counseling and Prevention Services, the Healthy Organizations, People and Environments (HOPE) Coalition, members in Sitka. Alaska initiated community action and education in an effort to secure the statewide smoke-free workplace law took immediate effect. HOPE Coalition members distributed smoke-free workplace law educational packets, signs, and window clings to the four newly smoke-free businesses in town (two bars, two clubs). Bar managers expressed concern about possible issues with the new law. Predominantly, increased cigarette butt litter in downtown Sitka due to tobacco-users smoking outdoors. In response to the concern a cigarette butt cleanup was organized.
HOPE Coalition partners, including SoutEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), Sitka Community Hospital, and Sitka Counseling, mobilized to host a community cigarette butt cleanup on Thursday, October 25, 2018. Members used buckets, gloves, pickers, and an attention-grabbing mascot – Ciggy Butts – for the clean-up. Each of the newly smoke-free businesses was visited by coalition members where they were offered support to ensure the long-term success of this law. Over 1,000 cigarette butts were picked up that day; resulting in a more environmentally friendly, cleaner, and aesthetically-pleasing business district for residents and tourists alike.
There was an overwhelmingly positive response from the community members following the organized clean-up. Business owners appreciated the reduction in cigarette-butt litter, and community members enjoyed seeing a cleaner environment. Consequently, HOPE Coalition members agreed that hosting a monthly cigarette-butt clean-up initiative would benefit Sitka greatly. Since then, the cleanups have taken place once a month, volunteer numbers have increased, partnerships between agencies have been strengthened, smoke-free businesses feel supported, and the community continues to feel the positive impacts from a healthier and cleaner Sitka. The HOPE Coalition has even been invited to host their cleanups in conjunction with other events, including a day of honor and dedication to Ryan Kauffman, former colleague in Tobacco Prevention and Control, and in preparation of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation site visit.
Monthly cigarette butt cleanups in downtown Sitka have strengthened partnerships between local agencies, created a healthier environment in the downtown area, and supported the statewide smoke-free statewide law implementation. Sitka is also a community that benefits substantially from tourism dollars and the clean-ups have contributed to making the coastal town an idyllic attraction.
Utilizing the monthly cigarette butt cleanups for earned media opportunities gets the word out about local efforts, and continues to keep tobacco prevention and control strategies at the forefront. In the month of August 2019, a cigarette butt cleanup will be hosted in honor of the one-year anniversary of Sitka passing the first Tobacco 21 law in the State of Alaska. A radio interview will take place to share information with the community about the importance of smoke-free workplaces, reduction of cigarette butt littler to the environment, and why other laws, such as Tobacco 21 are so crucial for reduction of tobacco use among youth. No one tobacco policy effort can be successful alone, and cessation support must be offered continuously. Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line messaging is always promoted with tobacco policy changes. The combination of these efforts are important in sustaining success, and will keep the importance of smoke-free workplace environments and other tobacco prevention efforts in the minds of community members and leaders.
The HOPE Coalition is always welcoming volunteers to assist with monthly community cigarette butt cleanups, or other tobacco policy efforts. For more information on how to get involved, please contact SEARHC Tobacco Health Educator, Amanda Roberts, at 907-966-8745, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you in advance for your support!
“Thank you for keeping the community clean. Keep up the good work!” – Anonymous Community Member