Posted June 1, 2017 – At 66, Ronald Sheppard has been smoking for more than half his life.
“Forty years,” he said. “Way too long.”
A team of health professors from the University of Houston College of Education caught his attention after a doctor’s appointment Wednesday. His visit coincided with World No Tobacco Day, sponsored by the World Health Organization.
The team, led by Associate Professor Lorraine Reitzel, project director of the Taking Texas Tobacco Free program, set up an information table at the Denver Harbor Family Clinic. The clinic is part of Vecino Health Centers. The federally qualified community health center provides medical, dental and mental health care in low-income, working-class neighborhoods in Houston.
Miguel Ramos, community engagement coordinator for Vecino Health Centers, had invited the group out to help curb smoking among interested patients and employees. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the world.
Reitzel, who lost both parents to smoking-related illnesses, told Sheppard that pairing cessation methods helps. For example, she said, using a nicotine patch along with nicotine gum or lozenges can be effective. She gave him a brochure with more tips and encouraged him to call the state’s Quitline (1-877-YES-QUIT).
“I stopped once,” Sheppard said as he left the clinic. “I can do it again.”
Dr. Donald Briscoe, medical director of Vecino Health Centers and program director of the Family Medicine Residency at Houston Methodist Hospital, noted that tobacco use causes several kinds of cancer, lung disease, heart disease and other medical problems.
“If you don’t smoke, don’t start,” he said. “If you do smoke, the single most important thing that you can do for your health is to quit. It’s not easy, but you’re worth it.”
The Taking Texas Tobacco Free program, funded by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, provides education and training to reduce smoking, particularly among employees, patients and clients at mental health agencies. The program partners with Integral Care of Travis County under the leadership of Bill Wilson, director of clinical research.
Since the initiative launched in 2013, about 4,600 staff members across Texas have received training and conducted more than 118,000 assessments of tobacco use with clients.
Reitzel’s team also participates regularly in community outreach events at schools and health fairs, sharing tips for going tobacco free as they did at Vecino’s Denver Harbor Family Clinic. Located on the site of a former cantina, the clinic is one of few medical facilities in the low-income neighborhood.
“The Taking Texas Tobacco Free program was pleased to join Vecino Health Centers on World No Tobacco Day 2017,” said Reitzel, who also serves as co-director of UH’s HEALTH Research Institute. “Together we stand against tobacco and the harm it causes our communities and the people we care for. It is through such partnerships that we are able to reach community members with resources to support them to go tobacco free.”
“We can’t just be reactive and want people to come to us,” added Assistant Professor Virmarie Correa Fernandez, a collaborator on Taking Texas Tobacco Free. She joined Reitzel, Ramos, Isabel Martinez-Leal, research scientist for TTTF, and Sheila Buoy, a graduating senior and research assistant, at Vecino on Wednesday. “It’s best to meet them where they are.”
–By Ericka Mellon