Talking About Disparities in Ways That Promote Equity

Talking About Disparities in Ways That Promote Equity

By Wendy Kaplan, MPH | June 6, 2019
Community Programs Manager, ETR

As the Community Programs Manager for the Tobacco Education Clearinghouse of California (TECC), I have the pleasure of working with projects throughout the state of California doing their part to end tobacco-related health disparities. One of the ways we do this is through the creation of educational materials that provide information to specific audiences on a wide range of topics.

Sometimes our materials use data to illustrate differences in tobacco use or tobacco-related diseases among demographic groups based on race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or geographic location. We use these data to communicate about the health needs of our communities. However, identifying health disparities is just one part of the broader health equity discussion.


Through my participation in Health Equity Awakened, I have been exploring ways to shift my narrative from simply communicating that there are disparities, to communicating why they exist and persist. When we don’t explicitly talk about the deeper, structural factors contributing to tobacco-related inequities, people are left to draw their own conclusions about why Black children are exposed to more secondhand smoke or why American Indians have the highest smoking rates.

Many of us have been conditioned to default to notions of personal responsibility rather than looking at broader social determinants of health and the factors that shape inequity. This practice of pointing to personal behaviors, as is often the case in discussion of tobacco use, further reinforces implicit negative beliefs about communities of color and people with low income.

Please take a few moments to watch my video. I describe some strategies for reframing our messages to promote health equity.


Wendy Kaplan, MPH, is a Community Programs Manager at ETR. She has worked for local health departments, tribal nations, community-based organizations, and institutes of higher education in a variety of prevention programs. She is passionate about creating equity in organizational structures, program services, and communities. She can be reached at


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