The Montgomery County Health Department (MCHD) found that teens in the community not only perceived smoking as the norm, but also as a rite of passage into adulthood. While only 17% of the county's 760,000 residents actually smoked, research found that teenagers believed that 70% to 80% of adults smoked.
"It's what they were seeing every day," says John Hendel, VP of public affairs for The MWW Group. "The first thing they see outside a mall or in a restaurant is a bunch of people smoking."
MWW and the MCHD decided that the best way to tackle this inaccurate perception was to build a program that would engage in tobacco prevention and promote policy and behavioral changes in the county.
MWW opted to design a program that asked local businesses to take part by removing smoking from their establishments. MWW also sought to create a coalition of smoke-free advocates, whose presence in county workplaces would facilitate an attitude shift about tobacco use.
"We always wanted it to be a community-based program," says Lisa McCain, project director for the MCHD. "We wanted a brand that people would recognize for building up community partnerships."
The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Montgomery County was made up of community activists, health professionals, minority leaders, and businesses who helped create a Smoke-Free Workplace Recognition Program (SFWRP). Businesses were encouraged to join the effort in exchange for website promotion, a commendation from the MCHD, and a "Come On In, We're Smoke Free" sticker to be placed on either
the window or door of the establishment. Direct mail soliciting voluntary participation was distributed to all 25,000 registered businesses in the county. A customized, three-fold menu went to restaurants and bars giving reasons why they should take part in the campaign.
"The menu included a mock up of a $5 bill tip card that said, 'I enjoyed my meal, but would have enjoyed it more if it had been smoke free,' giving the average citizen a tool with which to express their opinion without being confrontational," says Hendel. The cards were to be placed on tables for customers to hand in with their checks.
A youth advisory panel was trained and sent to all the non-SFWRP-member locations to explain the positive impact a business's membership could have on the community.
McCain says more than 33% of county businesses have joined SFWRP, with more than 8,500 stickers distributed in the community. The Pennsylvania Department of Health is in the process of adopting the SFWRP program for all state counties.
When surveyed, four out of five people in the county remembered seeing the stickers at restaurants and retail establishment, and also said that, in their opinion, smoking was not the norm in Montgomery County.
The MCHD and MWW continue to work closely with the coalition and youth panel to get new businesses to join the program. "We're building the coalition so that in the next year we can hand it to the community for them to keep alive," says Hendel.
PR team: The MWW Group (New Jersey) and the Montgomery County Health Dept. (Montgomery County, PA)
Campaign: Come On In, We're Smoke Free!
Time frame: March to November 2003 (ongoing)