|David Lehmann, the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership's program manager (photo by Jeanmarie Evelly)|
Interview by JEANMARIE EVELLY
David Lehmann, a longtime worker in the public health field, heads the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership, a program funded by the State Department of Health and Human Services and based at 1826 Arthur Ave. The Partnership works with community groups and organizations throughout the Bronx to prevent young people from smoking and to shape public policy against the tobacco industry. Earlier this month, the Tremont Tribune sat down with Lehmann to get his take on cigarettes and smoking in our community.
How long has the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership been on Arthur Avenue?
The grant came through from the health department last January, but we officially launched in May of this year during the Borough President’s Bronx Week. So we’re sort of the new kids on the block.
What were you doing before you came to the Bronx?
I worked for the American Cancer Society—I retired for a year before I decided that I missed tobacco control. I’ve worked in tobacco control for 25 years.
What does the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership do?
Tobacco use is still the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, and our main focus is keeping our youth smoke free, and creating more smoke-free environments. The City Council has introduced a bill that would prohibit smoking in parks and beaches, and almost all of our Bronx representatives have signed on as supporter. The Bronx has more parks and beaches than any other borough, so that would really transform the landscape here.
One of our other campaigns is our “point of sale,” campaign—we’re trying to get local merchants to either stop selling tobacco or to at least reduce the visibility where they place cigarettes.
How many employees does the Partnership have?
There are just three of us, but we have about 40 community partners. We provide them with PowerPoint presentations and information that they can then take into the community. So it’s a big borough, but once you get these community partners on board, it’s easy to get your message out on the streets.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
Since we’re a new organization, just getting the lay of the land and getting started, making contacts. All of the elected officials here have been wonderful.
How are smoking habits in the Bronx different from other parts of the city?
In the Bronx, we have the second highest adult smoking rate in the city—second to Staten Island. But at the same time, we have the lowest youth smoking rate in the city, and we want to keep it that way.
How might a parent’s smoking habits influence their children?
The amazing thing about parents is that they want their kids to be healthy, so even if they might smoke, they don’t want their children to. When I grew up, everybody smoked. Both my parents smoked. But I never did. There are so many influences out there.
Do you think the city’s tactic of hiking cigarette taxes is an effective one?
New York has the highest cigarette taxes in the country, and the price increases are definitely effective. It stops kids from smoking because they simply can’t afford it.
What other tactics are successful at stopping young people from using tobacco?
These new gruesome anti-smoking ads on TV that show the effects of tobacco—that has a huge impact on kids. If they see what can happen, they’re less likely to do it. People need to know the consequences.
Ed. Note: If you’re a community organization or group and would like to find out more about working with the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership, contact program manager David Lehmann at (718) 466-8857.