By Narinder Dhaliwal, MA | July 10, 2019
Director of ATOD, ETR
We are natural advocates, those of us in the public health world. We talk to our children about tobacco. We encourage our family members to use sunscreen. We work every day to promote the health of our communities. Educating our elected representatives is a logical next step, given the advocacy we practice every day of our lives.
ETR’s ATOD team (Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs) recently participated in California’s Capitol Information & Education (I&E) Days. I&E Days have been an annual happening at the State Capitol for over a decade. The event has grown over the years, and now more than 150 advocates from across the state participate. They reach out to educate legislators on tobacco’s impact and the burden it places on the state’s diverse population. Participants also remain available to serve as resources to elected officials on both local and statewide tobacco-related issues.
I’d like to share some of our team’s experiences at I&E Days this year. This valuable process affirms our team’s expertise and builds stronger connections with our representatives. I’m inspired by the messages our team members are bringing to our legislators, and impressed that they make it look easy!
If you ever have an opportunity to participate in a similar experience, I hope these stories inspire you to step up and speak out about the health issues important to your community and those you serve.
My group met with Assembly Member Todd Gloria. He sat down to speak with us directly, and we all had a good conversation. He relates to the Native American Population as well as the LGBTQ Community. He is very involved in both of these communities and helps when he can.
He was interested in hearing more about upcoming tobacco bills and learning what he could do in support. Todd has been a friend of my husband’s for years. They sat on the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) board for many years together. When I walked into his office, he joked, “Hey I was just texting your husband.” I never thought he would remember me like that.
Working with tribes is different. Federally recognized tribes have equal standing with state governments. This means we are doing a lot of government-to-government interaction. We make it work by building strong personal relationships. Things work best when they, or we, can just call one another or text whenever we need to. Being able to meet with Todd was important. I know this strengthened our relationship with him. We can call and reach him directly if we need to. He understands the tribal aspect and how to work with tribes.
My team met with Nestor Lopez from Assemblyman Ken Cooley’s office. We spoke about general issues related to secondhand smoke as well as ways the tobacco industry is specifically targeting California’s diverse populations. Mr. Lopez was interested in our work with California Tribal Nations. He appreciated our examples of ways tobacco advertising has focused in on Native Americans. We described the exploitation of the Native American community in tobacco advertising featuring sacred and ceremonial images, and discussed how inappropriate it is to use these images to market and promote deadly products.
Assemblyman Cooley’s office is very supportive of tobacco control efforts, and they are knowledgeable about tobacco control. We spoke about the great work that has been done to date. With emerging issues such as vaping and flavored tobacco products, we acknowledged there is still more work to do.
We also invited his staff to attend upcoming meetings at the Sacramento County Tobacco Control Coalition.
For I&E Days, I went with the Asian-Pacific Islander (API) Caucus to speak with a consultant for the statewide California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus (APILC). This type of meeting is similar to those my colleagues had with individual legislators, but we were meeting with a legislative caucus.
There were four parts to our presentation:
The consultant listened and was very supportive. It was my first I&E Days experience and it was exciting to participate in the advocacy process.
My group met with two representatives from different sides of the aisle. The first was Democrat Todd Gloria, Assembly Member for the 78th district (San Diego). He is only the second person of Filipino heritage ever elected to the California State Assembly. Todd is a graduate of the University of San Diego and an enrolled member of the Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. He is also Vice-Chair of the Assembly LGBTQ Caucus.
Todd started out his public service career working for San Diego county agencies, where he developed an interest in working on solutions to homelessness. He has a robust understanding of smoke-free multi-family housing as a social justice issue (something I wrote about in an earlier blog post). He also expressed concerns over the fact that youth are being targeted by tobacco companies to use vaping products such as JUULs, and the ease of addiction when nicotine is disguised by kid-friendly flavors. He expressed support for restricting access to flavored nicotine products as a logical step to protect youth from a predatory tobacco industry.
Our second representative was Republican Frank Bigelow, representing California’s 5th Assembly District (parts of Amador County and all of Calaveras County). Assemblyman Bigelow has been the chair of the Rural Caucus of the Assembly. He expressed a reluctance to share his opinion on flavored tobacco and vape products, although he said he was “keeping an open mind” on the issue. Assemblyman Bigelow also expressed his belief in allowing businesses to regulate themselves as much as possible.
I&E visits were an important opportunity to meet with two policymakers who were both polite, intelligent people of goodwill with completely different lived experiences and apparently diametrically opposed political views. This reminded me of how important it is for us to frame our educational and policy efforts in ways that both sides of the aisle can understand and relate to.
Initially, my group met with Aracely Campa, Capitol Director for State Senator Benjamin “Ben” Hueso of Senate District 40. We were helped by information provided by the American Lung Association for I&E Days (biographies of the representatives, voting records, useful tips, leader guides, etc.) on all senators and assembly persons.
Senator Hueso and his team fully support tobacco control efforts. He has voted for all Assembly Bills, Senate Bills and Senate concurrent resolution measures supporting smoke-free state parks and beaches. Mrs. Campa welcomed us and showed real interest as we presented data and information on JUUL and discussed the heavy targeting of diverse communities (LGBTQ, African Americans, Tribal Natives, Hispanic/Latinx & Youth), which are being flooded with misleading tobacco advertisement and media. We provided a folder containing information on our continued efforts to support smoke-free work places, housing and public places/events. We see these measures as vital steps in creating greater health equity.
Unexpectedly, as we were on our way out, Senator Hueso himself invited us all into his office. We sat around his table and were able to share our presentation directly with him. We invited him to read the information provided in our folder, thanked him for his support in these efforts and encouraged him to keep leading this fight for health equity for all.
I want to thank the members of our ATOD team for participating in the I&E Days with the kind of energy, enthusiasm and spirit they bring to their work every day. These are some of the individuals who are working tirelessly to create safer, healthier communities. I’m glad some of California’s elected representatives had a chance to see them in action. They are a force to behold!
Narinder Dhaliwal, MA, is the Director of ATOD (Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs) at ETR. She is also project director of California’s Clean Air Project (CCAP), a project funded by the California Department of Public Health. She works with tobacco control programs throughout California’s 61 health jurisdictions. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.