“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
Want to do something about a smoking or tobacco problem in your community? Taking action through the legislative process is a great way to solve a smoking or tobacco issue affecting you or your community. There are several ways to contact your local representative:
- Call their office
- Send an e-mail
- Send a letter of support
- Attend an in-person or virtual City Council/ County of San Diego Board of Supervisors meeting
Steps to take before contacting your local representative:
Step 1 – Identify your problem
Research to see if a state or local law already exists about your problem. Is a new law needed, or maybe enforcement of an existing law? Common problems include:
- Drifting secondhand smoke from my neighbors (local)
- Smoking in the workplace (state)
- Secondhand smoke in outdoor dining (local)
- Cigarette litter in my city (local)
- Cigarettes being sold to minors (local and state)
- Smoking near entryways or on sidewalks (local and state)
Step 2 –Get the Facts
Go to respected health organizations that have information to back up your concerns with facts and scientific evidence.
Find out how big the problem is. Who does it affect? How is it affecting you? How might it affect your community or neighbors?
Who else might have this problem? Think outside of the box… maybe a church group, teen club, volunteer group or senior center has this same problem. Ask people whether they have the same concerns. You will probably find allies among those people. You may need them later to show your power so keep them informed about what you are up to.
Step 3 – Find your policy maker
Who Do You Ask?
Match your problem issue (local/state/federal) with the appropriate elected representative to begin to advocate for policy change. Find your state and federal representatives by contacting the REGISTRAR OF VOTERS or by calling 858-565-5800 and local representatives here.
Step 4 – “The Ask”
When you first contact your elected official, your concern will likely be addressed by a staff member, which is a great place to begin. Staff for elected officials are wonderful to work with because they have time to devote to YOU, their constituent (that is their job!) and they will keep your elected official connected and bring them in throughout the process of solving your problem. Plus they are typically very friendly, energetic and smart.
What to Say?
Always tell them you are a constituent – you live in their district or you employer is in their district. This is key, they work for you!
Tell Your Story
Develop a short (2 minute) “elevator speech” that you can use to tell the personal side of your story. How have you, or someone you know been personally affected by tobacco. You may want to have a couple of versions ready. Your story is important, but it needs to be short.
Always be polite and respectful, no matter how frustrated you are.
Ways to Ask
- Write a letter or send an email.
- Call their office.
- Talk to them face-to-face. If you are at a community event, say hello, tell them who you are (a constituent) and about your concerns.
- Schedule a meeting. Bring copies of your research or related news clippings about the issue. If you are suffering from exposure to secondhand smoke, bring a note from your doctor.
- Write a letter to the editor about the problem and what you want to have happened. Your representatives read the news and pay attention to letters to the editor.
- Go to a Board/ Council meeting and testify. Our democracy is a beautiful thing- all public meetings are required to have an opportunity for the people to speak, typically called the “public comment” segment of the agenda. You may need to fill out a short form (or slip) to be recognized to speak. When your name is called, you will have 2-3 minutes to speak.
Tell Them What You Want
Remember to always be sure to ask for something. It may be for them to support a law, strengthen enforcement of an existing law, or help you resolve the problem.
Step 5 – Still No Support?
Ask again… but this time, show your POWER! You need people, lots of people. There is power in numbers! Remember those allies you found or contact Tobacco-Free Coalition of San Diego County at TobaccoFreeSD@gmail.com.
Think about who may have influence over the group you need to make the change. Depending on the problem and the jurisdiction, it maybe a condo association, parent-teacher associations, school superintendent or board members, or local business owners. Work with your local coalitions to bring out people to share their voice.
Don’t give up! Policy changes take time, and with your focused determination change is possible! Keep your friends organized and continue to keep the issue top of mind for your elected officials. You’re on your way to a smoke-free world!