Getting Started

Enacting a local smokefree indoor air law is the best way to protect people from secondhand smoke exposure. Local ordinance campaigns educate the community about the health effects of secondhand smoke and laws passed at the local level have high rates of compliance because people were involved in the process and understand why the law was enacted.

A successful campaign effort requires a lot of planning and organization. The public needs to be educated about the health dangers of secondhand smoke and their right to breathe smokefree air in their workplaces and in indoor public places. The coalition should work together with the local health department and other allies to strategize for the campaign; educate the public, business owners, and local lawmakers; become well-versed with the local lawmaking process; plan ahead for implementing and enforcing the ordinance; and divide up the responsibilities associated with a smokefree air campaign.

Use our checklist for getting started and buy our comprehensive guide, Clearing the Air.

Find out about current laws
Before embarking on a campaign for a smokefree air law, you must first determine what the current law is in your community. In some instances, there may be no laws whatsoever relating to smoking control, in which case you will be starting with a clean slate.

Form a coalition
The coalition should be an accurate reflection of your community. The strongest coalitions are broad and inclusive, with meaningful representation of the people and organizations most affected by secondhand smoke. Members may include hospitality workers and other employees, community advocates, medical professionals, teachers, youth groups, supportive business owners, health educators, and others. Coalition members should host a variety of skills, contacts, and experience. Seek new partners to ensure that your coalition embraces the diversity within your community. For example, approach faith groups and young adults to forge new partnerships.

You will need one or two people to be the primary spokespersons for the coalition. They will be responsible for taking your case to the public and the media. It is also always helpful to have someone who is a political insider and can guide a lobbying effort. Otherwise, however, there are only two prerequisites for membership in the coalition: a commitment to protecting nonsmokers and a willingness to work.

Start a database of supporters
Establish a database of contact information, not only for coalition members and supporters, but also for community organizations, business leaders, public officials, and the media. Keep names, addresses, and email information in one database. Your list will grow exponentially throughout your campaign. You will activate these supporters when you are ready to advocate for smokefree policy change.

The people in your database will not all be members of your coalition, or part of the decision making group. When the time is right, you can call on these community members to advocate for smokefree air. For example, you may send action alerts encouraging them to write letters to the editor of your local paper, and contact elected officials to voice support for smokefree air.

Educate your community
Before going public with your proposed law, you need to lay the groundwork for it by conducting an effective public education campaign. This can feel tedious and time consuming, but preparing your infrastructure at the outset is critical to the ultimate success of your policy efforts. Spend an adequate amount of time - several months to a year - on a public education campaign so that members of the community, including elected officials, understand the health hazards of secondhand smoke and the potential means of protecting people from those hazards. Impress on people the need to change the social norm from smoking to nonsmoking. You should also educate the community as to the nature of the tobacco industry and the false claims that the industry will make in order to defeat any proposed law.

Get your message out into the community. Make public presentations to a wide variety of organizations. Civic clubs, parent-teacher organizations, youth groups, health agencies, professional societies, and other community groups provide an excellent opportunity to identify individuals who care about the issue and are willing to support or work on your campaign.

Educate the local business community about the health effects of secondhand smoke exposure, and the potential legal liability of businesses to their employees and customers before the tobacco industry shows up to spread misinformation and create unfounded fears about business loss. Also share with them the extensive research findings that prove that smokefree laws have no negative economic impact on businesses in places that have already enacted them. Indeed, you can show them that such laws have a positive impact by reducing costs and increasing employee productivity.

Your public education campaign may also include smokefree ads, and earned media opportunities. Call ANR at 510-841-3032 for more information and ideas on running an effective public education campaign in your community.

Remember: educate, educate, educate… then legislate!

Find out where your community stands
Many coalitions undertake public opinion surveys, asking residents how they feel about secondhand smoke and smokefree laws. Almost all such surveys show strong support for smokefree air, and this is the best ammunition you can have when it is time to approach legislators with your proposed law. Conduct a community survey to become informed about public support for smokefree laws in your town. Contact us for sample surveys and polls.

If you have determined that there is strong community support in favor of a smokefree law, move forward by sharing all of this information with your elected representatives and other officials.

However, if you find that community support for the proposed law is weak, then you will need to postpone action on a law and refocus your educational efforts. Under no circumstances should you try to pass a law, even a relatively weak one, when the community is not ready for it.

Draft your ordinance
Read our model ordinance, and pay particular attention to common mistakes when drafting the provisions of the ordinance. Agree on deal breakers at this stage (e.g., ventilation, hours or minors provisions, trigger schemes, etc. are NOT acceptable). These provisions do not help us achieve our public health goals. Send your draft ordinance to us for review.

Find a good sponsor
When the coalition is ready to move forward with the legislative campaign, find a city council member or board of health supervisor to sponsor the ordinance. Maintain communication with your sponsor and ensure that he or she will accurately represent your coalition goals. It is not a great idea for your sponsor to be a member of the coalition, but they should be engaged in ongoing communication with your coalition leaders.

Let your sponsor know what your bottom line is and just when you will stop supporting the measure. While it is reasonable to work in incremental stages to limit or prohibit smoking in different places (e.g., public places, workplaces, restaurants), it is better in the long run to refuse to support any weak law that is riddled with exceptions and loopholes, no matter how broad its coverage may seem to be. The tobacco industry and its allies are very adept at proposing laws that seemingly protect nonsmokers but that, in fact, only protect the industry. You must not only refuse to support such a law, but you must also be prepared to strongly oppose it, lest the tobacco industry obtain a major victory with your seeming acquiescence.

Now that you have educated your community, find out if you are ready to launch your campaign. The next section provides information and tips to help you during your campaign. It's never too early to start thinking about implementation.

Don't go it alone! Call us at 510-841-3032 to consult with one of our technical assistance experts. We may have members in your area. (Are you a member?) Or email us for a complete packet on going smokefree.