To celebrate state and territorial tobacco program managers as dynamic leaders in tobacco control, the TCN homepage is highlighting tobacco program managers in a series of rotating features. This will give the TCN membership and national tobacco partners an opportunity to learn more about the work of program managers. If you would like to nominate a program manager to be featured, please reach out to email@example.com.
What led you to pursue a career in tobacco control?
Prior to being in public health I worked in the field of communications as a newspaper editor and in health care as an EMT in a volunteer EMS system. Becoming a health educator allowed me to merge my two passions – medicine and communications – into one. I was pulled into tobacco to build a startup program addressing youth tobacco possession. It spoke to my heart to help youth become tobacco-free so they wouldn’t face the prospect of having or living with any of the number of tobacco related diseases (that I would later see impacting my family).
As a child I remember thinking how smelly and horrid cigarette smoke was and as a teenager how bad it was to kiss a girl who smoked. Those early experiences, plus knowing the harmful effects over the long term, made it an easy decision to say yes when I was encouraged to apply for my first position in tobacco control back in 1998. My children, who were both less than 3 years old at the time, were my motivation as I wanted to do have a positive impact on their lives when they became adolescents facing the onslaught of pressure to try tobacco and other things.
Once I got into tobacco control I realized it was unlike any other public health issue. Nowhere else do you have such a long history of research and best practices to guide your actions. Nowhere else do you have an industry that is working so actively in opposition to you, and doing so both overtly and covertly. Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to be creative (a necessity when you have no money) in expanding best practices to new groups in a way that can immediately impact the health of individuals and save lives. Other programs help people live healthier and longer lives, which is very valuable, but in tobacco control we save lives. We know it. Our data proves it. And our communities show it.
How long have you been a Program Manager? How long have you worked at your state health department?
I have been with the [Texas Department of State Health Services] since June 1993 and with the exception of 18 months spent in bioterrorism/community preparedness, I’ve been in tobacco control since June 1998. I took over as branch manager in August 2013.
What are you most proud of your state accomplishing in tobacco control?
While I’m proud of several things – our tobacco team, our low(ish) prevalence rates, our broad array of quitline options, our youth movement that has changed lives both inside and outside of Texas; there are two things that I’m really proud of because they began as an idea that I’m watching bear fruit beyond my wildest dream.
The first is our eTobacco protocol for making referrals from electronic medical record systems directly to our quitline provider and getting feedback to the provider through the EMR system. This began years ago when we had ARRA funding, I challenged our contractor to find a way to improve clinicians’ treatment of tobacco dependency. I was thinking of the old “Put Prevention into Practice” model for changing treatment practices through protocols. They came back with EMRs well before the mandate for health information exchanges and EMR standards were the norm. Now we are working with providers both large and small, from community FQHCs to the Baylor-Scott and White Healthcare System (one of the largest systems in the country). We are implementing these protocols within their systems so that every patient is screened for tobacco use and give the opportunity to quit and be referred to the quitline on every visit. We are now pilot testing a module for pediatricians so they can refer parents and care givers of their patients to the quitline, which can not only help the tobacco user quit but also reduces their child’s exposure to secondhand smoke.
The second accomplishment I’m most proud of is a fairly new element to our program. In 2015 we received funding and permission to create a position to specifically address tobacco related health disparities. Like many programs we had been trying to address health disparities within regular program activities with sporadic targeted efforts when there was an opportunity. Today I have a full-time staff person whose focus is on enhancing all of our program elements to ensure that we are addressing the needs of those populations who are often overlooked or underserved and engaging these individuals in our program activities and community interventions as part of the solution.
How have you leveraged the tools and the resources of the Tobacco Control Network in your state or territory?
Initially, before I became involved in the leadership of TCN, the greatest resources I had at my disposal were TCN News
and Help Your Peers
, where I read what was happening in other states so that I could learn and be inspired by the work of my colleagues so that when the opportunity came, I could replicate their successes to help the people of my state. This is where I learned about people who I saw as the heroes in tobacco control from what I saw happening in North and South Carolina, West Virginia, Minnesota, California, Florida, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Colorado and on and on. (If I didn’t list your state, please forgive me, I could have listed them all.) And the more I got involved, the more I learned about what was going on. These folks went from being names to being my friends and colleagues whom I can call on and hopefully be able to return the favor to them someday.
What do you find most challenging when working within tobacco control?
On a day to day basis it’s the usual challenges of finding creative ways to balance needs (always great) with available resources (always limited), dealing with legislation being proposed and the usual bureaucratic challenges from those who keep seeking the magic bullet answer to tobacco rather than focusing on proven comprehensive methods, and finding creative ways to address the ever changing tobacco environment as new products and threats (as well as new best practices and research) come into play.
However, the greatest challenge with the greatest satisfaction is being able to recruit, mentor, nurture and encourage my team so that they can one day take over my position. Being able to give them the freedom to take ownership of their positions, giving them the support to soar while protecting them so they can make mistakes and learn from them, challenging them to get out of their comfort zone with new experiences and learning opportunities is something that I think all managers want to do. But finding the time and resources to do that in a consistent and effective manner is challenging with all of the time demands related to being the manager. My goal is to make myself the least important person on my team by equipping and empowering my team to be the experts and stewards of what we do. Preparing the next generation is our greatest challenge.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy spending time with family, particularly as my wife and I are now entering the “empty nest” state of our lives. I enjoy spending time in ministry (I’m an ordained United Methodist deacon) helping others to engage the spiritual element of their health to live a life of wholeness and to help others learn how to be more aware of their role in society as being the voice and body to stand up for those who can’t so that they too can fully live as intended by their Creator.
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TCN's 2016 Policy Recommendations Now Available!
The Executive Leadership Committee of the Tobacco Control Network (TCN) is pleased to release the 2016 TCN Policy Recommendations
document. The policy recommendations reflect our network’s priorities and declare a vision and direction for those policy and system changes which the TCN membership believe are most important to reducing and eliminating the health issues caused by tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure.
Building on the previous policy document, the 2016 TCN Policy Recommendations aim to prepare the TCN membership to meet the evolving demands of the tobacco control landscape. It is our hope that the 2016 TCN Policy Recommendations will be used to help shape effective tobacco control programs. State and territorial tobacco control programs found the 2012 version helpful in providing program direction, completing readiness assessments, developing their five-year National State-Based Tobacco Control workplans, and educating their state’s leadership about evidence-based tobacco control work.
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