BUTT OUT: Fort Liberty and NC Public Health Officials Launch Initiative to Educate Tobacco, Nicotine Users and Vapers at Fort Liberty

By Jerome MappSeptember 8, 2023

BUTT OUT: Fort Liberty and NC Public Health Officials Launch Initiative to Educate Tobacco, Nicotine Users and Vapers at Fort Liberty
Lt. Col. Teresa Pearce, director of the Department of Public Health at Fort Liberty, introduces North Carolina Public Health officials during the two-day Tobacco Treatment Specialist training program at the Fort Liberty Education Center. (Photo by Jeffrey Rosales, Supervisor, Health System Specialist) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

The message that using tobacco or nicotine products is a bad and potentially dangerous habit was very clear in August, as Fort Liberty and North Carolina Public Health officials held a two-day training session at the Education Center to educate Fort Liberty medical providers on the dangers of using tobacco and nicotine products, and vaping.

The providers will, in turn, educate the smoking and vaping population at Fort Liberty.

According to Lt. Col. Teresa Pearce, director of the Fort Liberty Public Health Department (FBDPH), a 2021 community survey revealed that tobacco use, and the use of vaping product, is common among Fort Liberty personnel.

“Almost 60 percent of service-member respondents reported current tobacco or vaping use. This increased to 75 percent, when looking at respondents that live in the barracks,” Pearce said. “Of concern, about 25 percent of current user service members initially started their use after they came to Fort Liberty.”

Pearce said that the two-day training brought together healthcare officials with the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Lineberger Cancer Center, Duke University’s Center for Smoking Cessation, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services-Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch (NC DHHS-Tobacco Control Branch), and the Cumberland County Department of Health (CCDPH) at the Fort Liberty Training and Education Center.

The UNC Tobacco Treatment Program partnered with Duke University to provide training for Fort Liberty providers and healthcare personnel that can lead to certification as a tobacco treatment specialist (TTS). The FBDPH has an existing public health partnership with UNC Lineberger Cancer Center, Cumberland County Department of Public Health (CCDPH), and the North Carolina Department of Public Health–Tobacco Control Branch.

“We invited the TTS training team to provide this training tailored to a military provider population. The funding for the training was primarily from CCDPH through grants that the partnership has received,” according to Pearce. “This training will educate Fort Liberty prescribing providers (i.e., physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists) and clinical staff about evidence-based tobacco/nicotine product use treatment and prevention.”

Pearce called the training a force multiplier that will empower individuals from the entire treatment team to understand nicotine/tobacco treatment and, therefore, be part of the solution in expanding support of cessation efforts.

“The TTS training is part of a multifaceted program at Fort Liberty to reduce use of tobacco and nicotine products. Educating healthcare personnel is one important facet of the program,” she said. “We are also getting ready to begin a project with the University of Virginia here at Fort Liberty with targeted focus groups with all ranks of service members to better understand current perceptions of the wide variety of tobacco and nicotine products and what draws our population to use them. Armed with that information, we can then develop targeted approaches to cessation and prevention that better fit the Fort Liberty community.”

In addition to these specific programs, all four organizations also work to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking and the benefits of quitting through public education campaigns, presentations to community groups, and one-on-one counseling.

The U.S. Surgeon General has issued several reports over the years on the dangers of smoking and vaping. The most recent report, released in 2020, found that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, responsible for more than 480,000 deaths each year. The report also found that vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking, and that young people who vape are more likely to start smoking cigarettes later in life.

Here are some of the key findings of the Surgeon General's report on the dangers of smoking and vaping:

• Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other serious health problems.

• There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke.

• Secondhand smoke can cause cancer, heart disease, and other health problems in nonsmokers.

• Vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking.

• E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug.

• Vaping can expose users to harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde and acrolein.

• Young people who vape are more likely to start smoking cigarettes later in life.

Although Pearce and other Public Health officials would love to see smoking, vaping, and other forms of tobacco and nicotine use wiped out, she is more realistic about the approaches that are necessary to educate smokers about the dangers of their chosen habits.

“A more attainable goal is to widen the opportunities for our community to access the knowledge and resources needed to quit, and to create targeted educational efforts to aid prevention,” she added.