Center for Reducing Health Disparities

Partners for Health: A Grassroots Effort to Reduce Tobacco Use in Nebraska

Cindy Jeffrey
Cindy Jeffrey

In Nebraska, collaboration is key to success. And for reducing tobacco use in Nebraska, partnering of local and state organizations has brought great success for the health of Nebraskans. You have experienced the success of that partnership – if you’ve ever entered a restaurant or any business and breathe in clean, yes, that clean air free of smoke. Advocating for and maintaining policies, programs and laws like the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act are one of the successes of the effort that helps build healthy tobacco-free communities in our state.
Tobacco control has risen and attained more support from academic research in the recent past. The last 50 years of the US Surgeon’s general report has helped gather consistent long-term proof of health disparities caused by tobacco. According to the Surgeon General’s 2014 report, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the US, where 41,000 deaths are a result of secondhand smoke exposure. A threat to our society right now is that if smoking persists at the current rate among youth in the US, 5.6 million of our youth younger than 18 years of age are estimated to die from smoking related illness.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), recognizes that tobacco use costs our country billions of dollars each year in direct medical care and lost in productivity. For this reason, the CDC makes recommendations for state efforts in tobacco control. With money from tobacco industry legal settlements and tobacco excise taxes, states have funding available to exercise research proven strategies against tobacco use.
The CDC estimates that this 2014 fiscal year, states will collect $25.7 billion, but will only spend 1.9% of it on prevention and cessation programs. CDC recommended funding levels, meant to effectively reduce tobacco use in every state, is never met. This fact is unfortunate and a reality that members like Matt Prokop of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Cindy Jeffrey of Health Education Inc. are trying to change in the state of Nebraska with other partners through the Creating a Movement state effort.

Matt Prokop
Matt Prokop

Organizations like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association, Health Education Inc., and local agencies have gathered to build robust, sustainable efforts to reduce tobacco use that can closer meet recommendations from the CDC.

Their approach? The partners follow a 3 legged stool approach, as Matt Prokop put it, to combat tobacco; an approach that matches CDC and the World Health Organization strategy recommendations. The strategies include monitoring and advocating for comprehensive smoke free laws, reaching CDC recommended funding levels, and fighting for appropriate tobacco tax levels. Sadly, Nebraska falls 38th in the nation when it comes to implementing tobacco tax and has been in an uphill battle for the movement in tobacco tax increase to gain support.

As Athena mentioned in an earlier blog, the national tobacco tax average is $1.53 per pack, Nebraska’s tax is at a dim $.64 per pack.
One goal that Creating a Movement hopes to push, through policy education, is gaining support to match our neighbor’s Iowa tobacco tax of $1.36. This change, although not an ideal rate, would at least get us closer to an appropriate tax level. Increasing tobacco tax, across the country, has proven to reduce resident’s tobacco use, therefore saving lives and reducing medical and loss of productivity to the state.

Nebraska’s partners hope to reach their goals by engaging the media, putting out messages that counter the tobacco industry’s influence; mobilizing community champions and local spokespeople that can support and build personal connections to the problem; and communicating with legislators to educate on tobacco health disparities to build a case for reform.

Finally, at the heart of the effort are partnerships that represent diverse agencies working on the grassroots level. The movement serves as an open line of communication with the tobacco control community and in pooling resources to utilize best practices for saving lives in Nebraska.

If you’d like to download a report on the toll of tobacco in Nebraska, and receive regular news updates on tobacco issues around the country.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Morbidity and mortality weekly report. 63(21), 1-20. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). The health consequences of smoking-50 years of progress: A report of the surgeon general. Retrieved from

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