A return to tobacco control advocacy

13-karlaKarla Wysocki
American Cancer Society
13-flag United States of America
26 Sep 2014


Please tell us about your work with tobacco control:

In early 2000, I began working at the American Cancer Society in Iowa City, Iowa.  At the time, Iowa was presumed to be a state with tobacco control preemption (localities prohibited from passing local ordinances).  However, the state Attorney General issued an opinion indicating the state secondhand smoke law did not preempt local regulation.  This started a tremendous wave of efforts to both build grassroots support and educate elected officials on the dangers of secondhand smoke.

A small group of tobacco control advocates formed CAFE Johnson County (Clean Air For Everyone) in 2000 to educate people on the dangers of secondhand smoke.  Our efforts led to the eventual Iowa City smoke-free ordinance banning smoking in restaurants.

Grassroots groups had to think creatively and strategically to keep the issue of smoke-free areas front and center seeing as there was no state law banning smoking in public places.  At the time, I chaired the Iowa Consortium for Comprehensive Cancer Control Tobacco Control Implementation Group and collaborated with tobacco control leaders to present secondhand smoke workshops across Iowa.  The initial focus was to help schools and work sites develop smoke-free campus policies.  Our team soon realized there would be more support if the hospitals in Iowa were on-board with similar efforts.

In partnership with the Attorney General’s Office, I worked closely with the Iowa Hospital Association to obtain their endorsement for 100% tobacco free hospital policies.  Our efforts to educate and train hospital leaders across the state helped them to successfully create and enact policies.

During this time, I was a founding member of CAFE Iowa (a state-wide coalition organized to help build grassroots support for various tobacco control efforts, including legislation for smoke-free environments and increasing the state tobacco tax).

In the past few years, my work with the American Cancer Society has taken me in a different direction – now working closely with cancer centers in the upper Midwest.  I am excited to have this opportunity to again work in the tobacco control arena with the Global Bridges team.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

The majority of my tobacco control work has been related to advocacy efforts.  There are always challenges in mobilizing grassroots advocates around a specific issue while also educating decision makers.  As we learn with many health-related topics, the work is never done.

What are some success stories as a result of your work?

During my years focused on tobacco control efforts, it was gratifying to see Iowa move from a state with few secondhand smoke restrictions to a state-wide ban in most public places.  A highlight during this time was the partnership with the Iowa Hospital Association.  During the first eight months of these efforts, Iowa went from 13 hospitals with tobacco-free policies to 43 hospitals with policies in-place and another 29 planning policy change (total of 116 hospitals in Iowa).  We were able to present our results at the 2006 UICC World Cancer Congress.

I have been blessed to work with truly wonderful (and passionate) individuals through membership in / partnership with CAFE Johnson County, CAFE Iowa, the Iowa Cancer Consortium and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

What was the reason you got involved with this type of work?

I have witnessed family and friends battle the powerful effects of tobacco use.  It is an addiction that greatly impacts tobacco users as well as those around them (especially secondhand smoke).  Thanks to collaborative grassroots efforts, I am grateful that my two sons (one who suffered from asthma when very young), will not be exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke while in public locations.  It is amazing to see, firsthand, what a group of dedicated public health advocates can accomplish.