Haverstraw, New York, Activists Honored For Their Passion, Tenacity In Classic David V. Goliath Fight With Big Tobacco
Legacy® Announces 2012 Community Activist Award Recipients
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Today, the 2012 Legacy Community Activist Award is presented to Mayor Michael Kohut and Marion Breland-Oswald for their efforts within The Village of Haverstraw, NY, in Rockland County which is now viewed as a “Trailblazer Community” in tobacco control. By putting the reduction of youth tobacco use on their priority agenda, their village got a real-time education — and the nation received a bird’s eye view — on how the US tobacco industry responds when well-meaning policy makers attempt to put public health ahead of commercial interests. Mayor Kohut and Ms. Breland-Oswald’s actions initially led to a series of voluntary tobacco advertising removals in Haverstraw by retail owners, a local resolution restricting tobacco marketing in retail environments in 2011 and finally, although it was ultimately rescinded in 2012, the passage of the nation’s first ban of tobacco product displays.
“Each year, the Community Activist Award gives Legacy a chance to acknowledge individuals who are spreading important messages or taking action at the community level,” said Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, President and CEO, Legacy. “The courage and understanding of the issue that Mayor Kohut and Ms. Breland-Oswald displayed is commendable, because they took on a David and Goliath-type of battle in an effort to make a positive impact on the public health of their local community.”
Both Mayor Kohut and Ms. Breland-Oswald have successfully introduced programs like the Haverstraw Collaborative which is a local coalition that educated the community toward smoke free parks, and provided youth programs which have ultimately lead to reduced risk involvement. These efforts, along with progressive tobacco control initiatives, have helped allow Rockland County to emerge as one of the nation’s counties with the lowest smoking rates. Their efforts have involved the entire community in creating a collaborative environment where adults and youth alike are motivated to make positive changes for their lives and town.
“Neither the passage of the ban, nor the educational efforts within the Village would have been possible if Mayor Kohut had not been so open-minded about solutions to combat youth smoking, and courageous enough to begin the process of restricting tobacco displays in the village,” said award nominator Maureen Kenney, Director of POW’R Against Tobacco. “Though the law was later rescinded in the village due to a lawsuit filed by the tobacco companies and the enormous financial risk the suit would pose to the community, Marion continues to leverage the coalition to use the experience to ‘do it better next time.’”
Mayor Michael Kohut is no stranger to community involvement and tobacco-control programs. While Mayor, Kohut has participated in a number of tobacco-related initiatives in Haverstraw, most notably in 2011 working with the village Board of Trustees to pass a resolution to restrict tobacco marketing in retail environments. Even though the tobacco display ban was rescinded in 2012, his efforts ignited a national tobacco control discussion on tobacco display and other point of sale restrictions.
Marion Breland-Oswald has worked in human services since the age of 17 and currently serves as the Director of Youth and Family Services for the Village of Haverstraw. She earned a Master’s in Social Work from Fordham University and is a New York State Certified Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor/ Gambling Specialist and Certified Prevention Professional.
Growing from the Village of Haverstraw experience is an ongoing national discussion on how communities, advocates and businesses can collaborate to move the needle on building healthier communities and eliminating the negative effects of tobacco. Community partners of the New York State Tobacco Control Program have since recognized the importance of identifying a strong community activist and has affectionately coined the term “finding Marion” as a strategy to forwarding tobacco control initiatives throughout the state. Marion continues to motivate the state coalition to think outside of the box to find solutions.
“Individuals like Mayor Kohut and Ms. Breland-Oswald remind us that as a public health community, we need to continue to think outside the box to find solutions that will eventually significantly reduce tobacco from our communities,” Healton said. “We truly appreciate their efforts and are inspired by the courage of the people of the Village of Haverstraw to stand up and fight for their principles.”
Legacy helps people live longer, healthier lives by building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Legacy’s proven-effective and nationally recognized public education programs include truth®, the national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as contributing to significant declines in youth smoking; EX®, an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. Located in Washington, D.C., the foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. To learn more about Legacy’s life-saving programs, visit www.LegacyForHealth.org.
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