Birmingham creating large non-smoking ‘Health District’
The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday passed an ordinance that establishes a non-smoking “Health District” in Birmingham’s Southside neighborhood. Smoking will be prohibited on public property therein – including city streets and sidewalks.
The Health District will officially launch on December 1.
The ordinance was requested by prominent health-focused organizations within the Health District’s boundaries, including: Children’s of Alabama; Cooper Green Mercy Health Services; Jefferson County Department of Health; Southern Research; the University of Alabama at Birmingham and UAB Medicine; and Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
In a statement, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin expressed his “full support” of the effort and the organizations that requested the ordinance.
“The entities within the Health District are leaders in promoting wellness through education, research and healthcare that help the residents of Birmingham, Jefferson County and beyond live better lives,” Woodfin said. “I am grateful for the leadership of these organizations, and I join the Birmingham City Council in full support.”
In the coming months, partner organizations will provide specific guidance to those who visit their campuses. Property owners within the district will have the option to create designated smoking areas on their property, if not prohibited by another ordinance.
Birmingham City Council President Valerie Abbott advised that it was important for the City Council to pass this ordinance in support of those wishing to promote good health.
“Organizations in this highly concentrated health-focused area of Birmingham have long desired to encourage quitting for those who smoke due to the many adverse health consequences for both smokers and non-smokers,” Abbott outlined. “This ordinance allows the City of Birmingham to proudly support those efforts.”
In the past, organizations have prohibited or limited smoking on their property, but smoking was permitted on adjacent city sidewalks.
“This ordinance will allow organizations committed to the health of those we serve to enact meaningful policies and educational programs that make a real difference,” Mark Wilson, CEO of the Jefferson County Department of Health, explained.
The timing is especially good for the Birmingham VA Medical Center.
“The VA went smoke free this month,” Birmingham VA Medical Center director Stacy Vasquez commented, “and this ordinance will enable the VA to focus on decreasing tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure for the health and wellbeing of those who serve or have served our country.”
UAB has had a non-smoking policy in place since 2015, but the institution more recently began to champion the idea of a health district to promote health and wellness, including tobacco cessation, clean air and walkability.
With more than 22,000 students, 23,000 faculty and staff, and well over a million annual patient visits, as well as other visitors, UAB sees the upcoming Health District as an opportunity to reach and help countless people.
“UAB recently launched a Grand Challenge – Healthy Alabama 2030: Live HealthSmart – with the goal of significantly improving the health of Alabamians,” UAB President and Southern Research Interim CEO Ray L. Watts said.
“This Health District is one of the many initiatives we will advance through our unique ability to make our state healthier through our focus on education, research, innovation and economic development, patient care and community service,” he added.
As part of the initiative, educational messages and resources to help people quit smoking will be promoted by the partner organizations.
“We hope the Health District will enhance a positive environment of awareness and support for the health of our young patients and their families,” Mike Warren, Children’s of Alabama president and CEO, remarked.
Cooper Green deputy director Laura Hurst agrees.
“We, too, intend to make the most of this opportunity to help people achieve better health,” Hurst concluded. “As we continue to increase our focus on supporting our patients’ overall wellbeing, not just treating them when they are sick, initiatives like these help us set a tone. This is a great thing.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn