A guiding light

Sacramento County Tobacco educator

Recently, Sacramento County implemented a policy that stops people from smoking 20 feet from county building entrances and exits. California, with the second to lowest smoking rate in the country, is indeed at the forefront of anti-tobacco advocacy.

Californians enjoy smoke-free work places, restaurants and even bars. Sacramentans, in particular, enjoy smoke-free environments not only inside buildings but also in some cases outside. The county fair, the Sacramento Zoo, Fairytale Town and Kaiser hospitals are just a few of the many facilities that have voluntarily adopted outside smoke-free policies.

It is important to know, however, that the tobacco industry is doing damage somewhere else. It is beyond our borders, especially in third world countries, where tobacco companies have shifted their focus to take advantage of the economy, the environment and the people.

So why should this be important to us?

First of all, there are multiple issues surrounding the growing and marketing of tobacco in other countries. For instance, you may not be a tobacco control advocate, but how do you feel about child labor abuse? Pesticide poisonings? Exploitation of poor communities? The truth is that all of these injustices occur as a result of tobacco companies. They also start focusing on international sales when the “going gets tough” here. It is south of our border where kids work up to 20 hours a day in tobacco fields for a very small wage among pesticides that were once banned here in the U.S.

Another reason why this is our business is because Sacramento has such a large immigrant population and it has ethnically diverse communities. At least 14 percent of Sacramento residents are immigrants, 16 percent of Sacramento residents are of Latino origin, and 13 percent are of Asian origin (Census Data 2000). Furthermore, in countries such as China, 66 percent of men smoke, compared to 27 percent of U.S. males (Tobacco Control by Country, 2000).

If we find ourselves strong enough to fight the tobacco industry in our own backyard, we need to consider the many countries with fewer resources that could benefit from our experience. Tobacco control advocates such as the members from Sacramento’s Tobacco Control Coalition, are not only working locally toward a smoke-free Sacramento, but also turning their sights to address tobacco globally.

So how can we make a difference beyond our own borders?

First of all, we can start by telling others about the problem, supporting anti-tobacco laws and writing letters to our elected officials. Although combating the tobacco industry internationally will not be easy, it should be treated as any other worldwide epidemic that our community hopes to eliminate.