Making The World A Better Place, One Policy At A Time.
Bob Gordon, MPH, serves as Project Director for the California LGBT Tobacco Education Partnership. He also co-facilitates The Last Drag, a free stop-smoking program for the LGBT community in San Francisco. As Co-Chair of the San Francisco Tobacco Free Coalition, Bob helped organize San Francisco’s Menthol and Flavored Tobacco ordinance, San Francisco’s Tobacco 21 ordinance and the first tobacco-free pharmacy ordinance in the United States. Bob has been honored with a number of awards for his work, including the 2013 Community-Based Leadership Award from the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Section of the American Public Health Association and the 2013 Community Activist Award from the American Legacy Foundation
Q: What do you find exciting about tobacco control policy work?
I’m excited that the innovative policies we create in California often spread across the country and around the world. I’ve seen tremendous change just in my lifetime. We can accomplish a lot at the local level. We live, work, play and vote in our local communities, and our elected officials have a responsibility to listen to us and take action to create healthier communities.
Q: What challenges have you faced in advocating for tobacco control policy change, and what was most helpful in addressing these challenges?
Years ago, we worked with an LGBT Pride Board to make their event smoke-free. It wasn’t easy. The powerful Board President was a current smoker and was convinced that this smoke-free policy would be an attack on his individual right to smoke. Luckily, we had engaged others on the Board first. These other Board members provided voices of reason who helped neutralize the “individual rights” argument of the Board President.
Q: In your experience, what key messages have resonated with policymakers?
During our campaign to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21 in San Francisco, a key message that resonated was from the Institute of Medicine. The Institute projected a 25% reduction in tobacco use by 15-17 year olds as a result of a Tobacco21 policy. We also shared personal stories to remind policymakers that when you are 17 years old, you are very likely to know an 18 year old, but much less likely to know someone who is 21 years old who can buy tobacco for you.
Q: Can you briefly describe your involvement with tobacco control policy work?
As a longtime member and now Co-Chair of San Francisco’s Tobacco-Free Coalition, I have helped pass many local policies throughout the years, including Tobacco21 and San Francisco’s recent landmark law to eliminate the sale of all menthol and flavored products in the city. These policies, along with the recent passage of a $2/pack increase in California’s tobacco tax, are a big boost to our efforts to protect the health of the public. One type of policy that I’m especially passionate about are local laws that eliminate the sale of tobacco in any store with a pharmacy. The first policy passed in San Francisco in 2008, and I’m happy to report that there are over a dozen tobacco-free pharmacy policies that have passed in the state since that time. I’ve also had the pleasure of partnering with a number of tobacco control coalition members across the state. Members of San Benito County’s Coalition taught me a lot about how to pass a policy in a place where most people said it couldn’t be done. They did a fantastic job of engaging and empowering young people who proved to be central to the passage of a tobacco-free pharmacy policy in Hollister.
Q: How have you avoided feeling intimidated by public speaking to policymakers?
It can be nerve-racking to address policymakers, but it’s a good kind of nervous that helps us show up and make a difference. Being nervous is a reminder that we care; that we want our words to be received well. Showing up and using our individual voices helps the cause. I like to remind people that elected officials are there to serve us, and that it is our duty to show up and be counted. And our words are not just for us, they are also for others who are too busy or afraid to step forward and be heard. No one expects us to be perfect. But how powerful it can be when we all show up to speak!