Public Health and Partners Launch 'Change for Life: Tobacco-Free Recovery'
to Help Clients with Mental Health or Substance Use Disorders
The brand-new year begins with new opportunities for Mecklenburg County residents with mental health or substance use disorder issues — opportunities to kick smoking or other tobacco products while receiving treatment for other disorders.
In 2021, Mecklenburg County Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Control team is leading the launch of Change for Life: Tobacco-Free Recovery, an initiative to empower behavioral health organizations to implement tobacco-free policies, integrate tobacco treatment into services, and promote a tobacco-free culture.
Among the first organizations to embrace Change for Life is McLeod Addictive Disease Center. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, all McLeod locations went 100% tobacco-free, prohibiting smoking and the use of tobacco products within facilities, McLeod Center vehicles, and on McLeod Center-occupied property. McLeod Center is one of North Carolina’s largest behavioral health treatment organizations, with two facilities in Mecklenburg County and seven others in Piedmont and western North Carolina.
Individuals with mental health and/or substance use disorders have the highest tobacco use rates. Change for Life: Tobacco Free Recovery aims to reduce that tobacco use, offering the promise of a future and an open door to aspiration and healing. Research shows that integrating tobacco-use treatment into programs for mental health and substance use disorders can boost a client’s chances of long-term recovery, while dramatically reducing his or her risks for cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and other serious health conditions associated with tobacco use.
“Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of illness and death in the United States,” said Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County Health Director. “Our Change for Life initiative insists that all addictions are treatable, and everyone has the right to be free of the physical, emotional, and financial costs of tobacco and other substance use disorders. It also addresses a core tenet of our mission at Public Health — to reduce and prevent chronic disease and injury in support of a healthier community.”
In 2020, 6,610 patients received treatment through McLeod Center’s programs. McLeod Center embraced the Change for Life: Tobacco Free Recovery mission early and worked for months to prepare their nine campuses to become tobacco-free for staff, patients, and visitors. Development of the tobacco-free policy included training for all counselors, managers, and key staff on the benefits of tobacco-free recovery and addressing tobacco and nicotine dependence at all levels of service delivery.
“Nicotine is addictive and research shows that quitting smoking increases the opportunity for sustained holistic recovery,” said Mary Ward, President of McLeod Center. “Our leadership team committed nearly two years ago to being part of this initiative and working hand in hand with Mecklenburg County’s Tobacco Prevention and Control team to create a tobacco-free policy that supports our mission of helping people get well.”
Change for Life: Tobacco-Free Recovery is a coalition of behavioral health partners from across Public Health Region 4 (Alexander, Cabarrus, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly and Union Counties), working to reduce tobacco-use among the behavioral health population. Change for Life offers local, state, and national resources to help behavioral health organizations of all sizes integrate tobacco-free policies into their services and programming. Those resources include trainings, coaching, access to medications, and communication and motivational tools.
All Mecklenburg County residents deserve a healthy home, workplace and community where tobacco use is no longer the social norm. Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Control team promotes culturally appropriate and best practice strategies to reduce deaths and health problems due to tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke or e-cigarette aerosols. We focus on eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke and e-cigarette aerosols, ensuring that tobacco users have access to resources to help them quit, preventing youth tobacco use, and addressing disparities in groups with higher tobacco use rates.
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Mecklenburg County Public Health encourages all eligible residents ages 12 and older to get a free COVID-19 vaccination.