Gift of Life Tobacco Control Coalition launch is slam dunk

photo by Brandon Gouthier

More than 175 city and county officials, healthcare professionals, first-responders, leaders in education and sports, as well as the media and other cross sections of the community turned out Friday, March 13, for the launch of the Tobacco Control Coalition of Southeast Texas’ regional tobacco-free awareness initiatives at the Beaumont Civic Center.

“One-third of all cancer deaths are related to tobacco usage,” said Norma Sampson, Gift of Life executive director. “Our Coalition’s Healthcare Community Alliance will address the devastating medical impact and concomitant costs associated with today’s tobacco products and implement a two-fold promotion of awareness and prevention programs, along with cessation coaching. The catalyst of the coalition is simply to save lives, while also protecting our children from the tobacco industry’s $23 million a day advertising propaganda to recruit new young addicts.” 

The press conference featured entertainment by ACRODUNK, an acrobatic basketball team seen on America’s Got Talent, and special guest speakers Jimmy Sims, mayor of Orange, and president of the Jefferson County Medical Society Dr. Garrett Peel, among other dignitaries.

The recently formed Tobacco Control Coalition represents eight community alliance groups whose individual efforts to save lives in Southeast Texas are enjoined in a campaign that spreads awareness of the dangerous consequences of tobacco use, including Beaumont-based Gift of Life.

The Coalition’s comprehensive regional strategy targets the initiation of tobacco use among young people and adults; reducing the appeal and acceptability of tobacco use; implementing tobacco cessation initiatives; and reducing secondhand smoke exposure, all of which will contribute to reductions in tobacco-related diseases and deaths.

“Since 1964, 20 million Americans have died of tobacco-related diseases,” said Jimmy Sims, Mayor of Orange. “2.5 million of those were non-smokers and 100,000 were babies, many dying from SIDS [attributed to tobacco-use]. There are more people addicted to tobacco and nicotine products than any other drug, and the tobacco industry continues to make large revenues, due to a highly successful marketing campaign. Help us help our community combat big tobacco advertising and reduce this horrible addiction that leads to death and disease.”

Sims’ comments were echoed by other area dignitaries such as Beaumont Mayor Pro Tem Alan Coleman, Jefferson County Commissioner Everette “Bo” Alfred and Port Arthur Councilman Robert Williamson, who all pledged to represent their communities in the coalition’s effort. Additionally, the audience heard from Neurosurgeon Mark Kubala, MD, as well as surgeon and president of the Jefferson County Medical Society Garrett Peel, MD, MHS, who offered medical expertise that reiterated the significance of the coalition’s mission.

“I see the effects of tobacco in the lives of my patients every day,” Peel said. “Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death, with 28,000 Texans dying of tobacco use every year and secondhand smoke causing lung cancer and other diseases. But, cancer’s greatest enemy is the power of education. As doctors, we must not only improve screening, but we must educate our patients at every opportunity. Stopping tobacco use today extends your life today. Let’s work together to stop tobacco!” 

KLVI media personality Al Caldwell was applauded at the conference for celebrating his birthday, as well as his 25th year of tobacco cessation.

“After smoking forty years, on March 28, 1990, I was undergoing my third operation to remove nodules from my throat, when my doctor confronted me,” Caldwell said. “I had been smoking since age 14, and I was then 54. I quit smoking that day, 25 years ago, and would not be here today, celebrating my 79th birthday if I hadn’t heeded my doctor’s advice.”

Also celebrating the decision to abstain from tobacco was Lamar University women’s basketball team point guard 22-year-old Beatrice Harrison. Harrison said she gave up her years-long addiction because she realized the negative impact it had on her life.

“I had difficulty breathing, and I knew that smoking was preventing me from moving forward,” Harrison said. 

The press conference culminated with the entertaining, high-flying stunts of ACRODUNK. These world-class performers ignited the crowd with their gravity-defying slam dunks integrated with anti-tobacco messages. Following their interactive performance, the team locked up Mr. Cig, a mascot that represented the hazards of tobacco use, and encouraged the audience to also lock-up tobacco at ceremonial activities to be held at a POD that will travel across Southeast Texas to educate citizens on the toll of tobacco. By distributing educational materials and displaying multicolor locks that symbolically represent each individual’s commitment to lock up tobacco, this POD will journey to Parkdale Mall (March 13 – 19), Central Mall (March 20 – 23) and the Lumberton Shopping Center (March 27 – 29).

The press conference augmented the media’s nationwide publicity associated with National Kick Butt’s Day (March 18), a day of activism that encourages youth to stand up and speak out against big tobacco. Other tobacco-free activities include awareness proclamations throughout Southeast Texas and the “I’m Not A Replacement” campaign taking place in area high schools with informational posters and print materials that specifically target e-cigarettes and secondhand smoke.

For additional information about the Tobacco Control Coalition of Southeast Texas, contact the Gift of Life at (409) 833-3663.