TURF Stopping BIG Tobacco
“With tobacco there is terrible withdrawal, it is almost impossible for a lot of people. I did, I went cold turkey, they never had any patches in those days but grass was not difficult, alcohol not difficult, but tobacco – OH MY GOD” – Anonymous
Within my childhood home, four of my family members smoked and chewed
tobacco. I have a feeling they would have expressed similar struggles attempting to
quit using tobacco. As the oldest of six siblings and cousins residing in my twelve-
person household, the affects of second-hand smoke caused each of us health
related issues as we grew older. The youngest of the cousins seemed most severely
I was born and raised in the beautifully diverse city of San Francisco. As most
residents of San Francisco can attest to, this city suffers from many health issues as
a direct impact of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco usage. For as long as I can remember, I
was living with asthma; a respiratory disease that affects many children and adults,
particularly in dense cities like San Francisco.
Asthma ontinues to affect numerous youth living in low-income areas due to high
concentrations of tobacco smokers, especially in the Bay Area. Unfortunately my
asthma has gotten worse throughout the years I have been hospitalized on several
occasions as a result of second-hand smoke inhalation on my way home from school,
work, and even in my enclosed apartment building. If San Francisco City Officials
truly wanted everyone to have the opportunity of health equity, then a decrease in
the number of tobacco retailer outlets in San Francisco would be of top priority.
Tobacco companies aggressively campaign for worldwide distribution and
advertisement. Though my dad, aunt, and uncles brought their smoking habits from
the Philippines, they were unable to leave behind their addictive habit of tobacco
use once settling in the U.S. The tobacco industry often targets families like mine:
immigrant, low-income, and brown. Tobacco industries are known for targeting
youth like myself as well as people lacking resources to stand up to the tobacco
industry to fight against the deadly addiction of tobacco use. It was for this reason
that I made the decision to make change where I could. This is why I joined the
Tobacco Use Reduction Force (TURF).
TURF is a program through the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) made up of eight
diverse youth advocates committed toward improving the health of San Francisco
residents, particularly those living in vulnerable communities, by crafting and
passing a tobacco policy. TURF’s first round pushing for a policy limiting tobacco
permits in San Francisco was in 2008 – 2010. As a team, our experiences taught
us crucial lessons that prepared for us for our second attempt of passing a tobacco
policy in San Francisco. My personal involvement began with YLI seven years ago
as a youth advocate. Through trainings and expert interviews, I overcame daily
challenges and developed skills that helped me become a leader.
As a youth advocate working on tobacco prevention for the past seven years, I have
seen few positive health changes in my community. Easy tobacco access is an issue
in low-income communities of color such as mine. Tobacco usage is still the most
preventable death, yet people continue to abuse their health when buying these
harmfully addictive products that will potentially deteriorate their health and the
health of others. “If you are addicted to smoking, purchasing tobacco products is
basically like buying your own death”, mentioned Jesus Sicairos, a member of the
As Jesus put it, people are essentially “purchasing their own death”, which has been
made possible with the excessive availability of tobacco outlets on just about every
street corner in some areas in the city. In an effort to restrict tobacco accessibility
and promote a healthier San Francisco, the TURF team will advocate for a citywide
We are currently drafting a policy that will reduce the number of tobacco stores in
communities most saturated and inundated by excessive tobacco retailer outlets.
We are striving to create uniformity for all San Francisco supervisorial districts.
Our policy will create sustainable change that will benefit residents, community
members, and youth striving for better health and access to clean air.