Tobacco-Free groups gear up for push

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

CORINTH – Residents in a handful of Northeast Mississippi’s counties are about to see a fresh push for smoke-free environments.
Coordinators held organizational meetings Tuesday for Mississippi Tobacco-Free Coalitions that serve Alcorn/Tippah counties and Prentiss/Tishomingo counties.
“Our purpose is to educate children about the effects of tobacco, help reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, promote quit smoking programs and help make as many communities as possible smoke-free,” said Melissa Nash, project director for Prentiss/Tishomingo counties.
The Coalition is a program of the Mississippi Department of Health, funded by the tobacco settlement money awarded to the state a number of years ago.
“It’s up to us to get out in the community and help with public awareness programs,” said Alcorn/Tippah project director Emily McGrath.
Student coalitions already are active in several schools, and coalition members are urged to implement new programs in schools and in communities, she said.
Examples of ways to spread the word include setting up information booths and giving out literature and answering questions at special community events.
“We’re planning to be at Iuka’s Heritage Day,” Nash said.
In the past fiscal year all four counties were in one coalition group, but this year the groups have been divided, with each expected to meet bi-monthly and present programs each month.
“Another important push for us is to encourage communities to go tobacco-free,” Nash said. “In some towns it might be as simple as approaching the mayor to ask if the town has thought about passing an ordinance.”
She recognized Booneville for passing an ordinance that bans “all tobacco use in restaurants and businesses that sell food merchandise.” Two months ago the city defeated a broader ordinance that would ban smoking in all public places.
“There’s money in it for towns that pass smoking ordinances,” Nash said.
Towns with populations less than 20,000 can apply for a grant of $2,500 to help in their quest to go smoke-free. Half of the money would be payable immediately, and if a smoke-free ordinance is passed, the community would receive the second half of the grant, she said.

Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.