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Targeting the Tobacco
Scourge in Philadelphia
By: Ryan Coffman, MPH, CHES, CTTS-M


n the early 2000's Philadelphia faced a major problem with
respect to tobacco use. The rates of smoking were increasing,
peaking at 27.3% in 2008. This amounted to almost one in four
Philadelphians using tobacco products. At the same time, smoking
rates in other large U.S. cities were either plateauing or declining.
Why was this happening?

The TPCP has worked with public and private sector partners to
expand clean indoor and outdoor air policies to recreation centers,
parks, public housing, colleges/universities, and health care settings
and restrict minors' access to tobacco products through legislation,
programmatic initiatives, enforcement, and education. Mass media
campaigns have raised awareness and informed the public about
tobacco use and its effects and reinforced tobacco control policy.
Historically, many Philadelphians have lived in environments The quality and consistency of tobacco treatment has been enhanced
that make good health and tobacco-free living difficult to achieve. through public insurance reforms and provider capacity building
Philadelphia has twice the retailers per capita of other big cities initiatives.
and these retailers are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods.
Low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia contain 69% more
Two examples of a policy, systems, and environmental change
tobacco retailers and are saturated with more tobacco marketing approach to address tobacco demonstrate how these methods can
than high-income neighborhoods. In addition, Philadelphia has 63% impact health on a population level. The Philadelphia Housing
more tobacco retailers within 500 feet of a school in low-income Authority (PHA), the fourth largest housing authority in the country,
vs. high-income neighborhoods. This heavy exposure to tobacco implemented a smoke-free public housing policy August 2015 across
marketing and tobacco retailers contributes to youth initiation, PHA sites with support from PDPH. This policy will protect tens
continued smoking, and less successful quit attempts.
of thousands of low-income residents from second hand smoke
exposure where they live. Recently published data collected by the
The Tobacco Policy and Control Program (TPCP) at the Depart- Drexel School of Public Health indicated that detectable air nicotine
ment of Public Health's Division of Chronic Disease Prevention or in public spaces was cut nearly in half after policy implementation.
Get Healthy Philly and our partners have been working to decrease
adult and youth smoking in the city. Smoking in Philadelphia has
In December of 2016, the Board of Health passed a regulatory
declined by 30% among youth since 2007 and by 18% among package that caps the density of tobacco retailers in each planning
adults since 2008 according to the 2014/2015 Household Health district in the city, prohibits new tobacco retail permits within 500
Survey. This has been achieved in part by addressing tobacco use with feet of a K-12 school, increases the tobacco permit fee from $50 to
a policy, systems, and environmental level change approach across $300 to adequately fund enforcement, and invokes a cease tobacco
collaborations with government, community-based organizations, sale order against tobacco retailers that repeatedly sell tobacco to
academic, and the private sector partners.
children. These regulations are an important step forward in reducing the overabundance of tobacco retailers and targeted tobacco

14 Philadelphia Medicine : Spring 2017


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