The evening of June 25th was a special one for the many volunteers of the Tobacco Education and Prevention Coalition. They gathered for a night of much deserved recognition and relaxation at Valparaiso’s Zao Island.
Gathered in the festive lower deck of the Fun Zone were several of the coalition's partner groups, including NorthShore Health Centers, HealthLlinc, and Headstart. They held an award ceremony that recognized each group in turn for what makes them special to the coalition.
For 14 years the coalition has been working to inform the community of the dangers of smoking and to change policies that expose nonsmokers to the harsh side effects of secondhand smoke. Every year, 500,000 people die from first or second hand smoke.
The coalition’s efforts have brought down local numbers, and have helped people quit. They established a hotline (1-800-QUIT-NOW) for people struggling with nicotine addiction. They are even responsible for the cessation in business policies that have helped make local venues safe from smoke.
Susan Gleason, former project director of the Tobacco Education and Prevention Coalition, has been an active member of the fight for 11 years.
“The event means a lot,” she said. “We honor the volunteers that have helped us and without them we couldn’t have done half the things that we’ve done.”
NorthShore has played a big role in endorsing the Coalition’s Quitline program. They were the first group to incorporate the program, which is a free counseling service for people trying to take back their health from cigarettes. The counseling is done over the phone and provides one on one coaching seven days a week.
Dr. Kamaljeet Girn holds the Coalition record for most patients referred to the hotline. He was honored at the award ceremony, along with other NorthShore volunteers.
“It’s about helping someone,” said Laura Lovell, a volunteer with NorthShore. “To be recognized by such a great organization is very rewarding. We know that our efforts are not going unnoticed. And it’s an awesome experience.”
For all the good that the Tobacco Education and Prevention Coalition has done, there is still much to do to make the next generation smoke free. Program Director Natalie Rivich knows that “the fight is always changing.”
While the public businesses in our community are all smoke free, certain venues like bars and private clubs still allow patrons to smoke. The Coalition is currently working on providing the employees of these places with a smoke free workplace.
“As we go to a place,” Natalie explained, “We can always leave a venue that we don’t want to stay in but people who work, they are exposed all day, every day.”
The fight against tobacco is a personal one for Natalie, who struggles with secondhand smoke related asthma. She also lost both of her parents to diseases caused by smoking.
Most people have a loved one that smokes. The Tobacco Education and Prevention Coalition is celebrating not just another year of volunteering, but a year of saving lives.