Coalitions Work and Social Change Happens

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a state’s tobacco control program cannot be considered truly comprehensive unless coalitions within individual communities are created to actively advocate for policy change. Coalitions improve the efforts of a comprehensive program by:

• Bringing diverse representation to tobacco control efforts.

• Allowing different organizations to bring their own skill sets to the effort without having sole responsibility for specific results.

• Expanding public support by representing different constituencies across the ethnic and political spectrum.

Coalitions help mobilize communities to implement strategies that make tobacco less desirable, less acceptable, and less accessible. While the financial investment in tobacco control coalitions is relatively low, the return on investment is high. They can enlist political and constituent support for policy changes in ways that government agencies cannot. They can also establish greater credibility because they represent multiple organizations focused on improving the overall community. And they amplify state resources by involving broad community representation, mobilizing members’ talents, and engaging the community to develop public support.

Coalitions allow for the combination of diverse groups that otherwise might not partner. Some address multiple components of tobacco control, while others are focused on specific issues or specific populations.

Coalitions typically have one of three types of memberships. They are either made up mostly of public health organizations, mostly of grassroots volunteers, or a mixture of both.

The first step for any coalition is to develop a statement of their vision, mission, and core values. Other components of a formal structure can include by-laws, a memoranda of understanding, and policy and procedure manuals, but the initial three statements create the foundation on which all coalition activities will be generated.

A coalition’s vision statement describes, often in a single sentence, what the coalition wants to accomplish, create, or achieve. A mission statement is used to hold a coalition accountable. It describes what the coalition will do to make its vision a reality. And a set of core values defines the values that need to be present both in the coalition and the community.

By leveraging their resources, tobacco control coalitions can be more influential than any one member organization alone in countering the tobacco industry’s marketing strategies. They can be powerful champions in educating the community about the negative health effects of tobacco use and advocating for evidence-based policy interventions that include:

• Increasing taxes on tobacco products.
• Reducing tobacco product advertising.
• Establishing counter-marketing media campaigns.
• Decreasing the social acceptability of tobacco.
• Expanding smoke-free environments.
• Limiting access to tobacco products.
• Educating policy makers.

According to a guide aimed at coalitions published by the CDC as part of its Best Practices series, coalitions have protected more than 70% of Americans from secondhand smoke, have helped implement a tobacco tax of $1 or higher in half the states, and have exposed the tobacco industry’s deceptive advertising and marketing to underage youth. The guide also includes a number of successful case studies that illustrate how coalitions can be an effective component of a comprehensive anti-tobacco program.

I recommend using CADCA’s Seven Strategies for Community Change (at cadca.org). Our strategies have shown that coalitions work and social change happens.

Keith Vensey, MPH, MBA
Director, Geographic Health Equity Alliance

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