The Eureka Community Services Department has been awarded $218,195 by the state Attorney General’s Office to take steps to reduce the sale of tobacco products to minors and it will include a comprehensive public outreach and education program along with enforcement of state and city ordinances.
“The goal of Community Services is to improve the quality of life in Eureka and this grant falls under that purview,” said Brian Millett, project manager with Community Services, which will oversee the program. “Last year, we received funding for a drug campaign — Let’s Get Real, Eureka — with EPD that really worked well and when we saw the funding was available, we decided to apply. This is called, ‘Let’s Clear the Air, Eureka’ and it will kick off in January.”
The program is aimed at public education as well as targeting retailers who sell tobacco products to minors. Millett expects the city will hire additional personnel to get the word out.
The state awarded more than $37 million overall and the funding comes from Proposition 56, which raised the sales tax on cigarettes by $2 per pack and with equivalent increases for other tobacco products.
“We got a lot of engagement from people who watched the ‘Let’s Get Real’ video and we found that smoking was overlooked because we have a lot of other pressing issues,” Millett said. “We’re still working out the details on what we will actually produce, either ads for online and TV and we might do a podcast here and there. We will also interview people who have quit smoking and get their stories and we will have staff go out to local schools for presentations.”
Millett said the main priorities are geared more to public health than outright code enforcement and Humboldt County still has more smokers on average than the rest of the state. The goal is also to educate children about the dangers of tobacco, whether it’s chewing tobacco or vaping.
“Outreach and public education is just as much a core as the enforcement,” Millett said. “Those hires will be made by next month and at the moment, I’m not sure how many we’ll hire as we were awarded less than we applied for, and the original number of employees I projected was based on the money we asked for, so I still have to talk to the DOJ to re-budget.”
According to data from the 2017-18 Healthy Kids Survey, more than 30 percent of Humboldt County 11th-graders have tried e-cigarettes, a number that increases among students who attend nontraditional schools. The latest data suggests about 16 percent of adults in the county still smoke or use tobacco products.
Both numbers are higher than state averages and the goal of the Eureka campaign is to lower those numbers through education and enforcement and at the same time make the city a healthier place to live.
“The county still has some of the highest rates of smokers and if the grant money is available, why not use it?” Millett said. “We want people to speak up when they see a sale to a minor and we want to educate children about the dangers of smoking and tobacco use.”
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.