Submitted by Kenneth B. Winfrey, LCSW, RYT C.E.O., Director of Clinical Services - Umoja Behavioral Health PC
Products that contain nicotine (vapes/e-cigs, cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, etc.) cause great harm in New Mexico.
In 2005, a state-wide collaborative of representatives from groups that are more impacted came together to prioritize the problem of nicotine in their communities. These include Native Americans, Spanish-speaking People, People Experiencing Disabilities and Poverty, African Americans, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, as well as the LGBTQIA+/Sexual Gender and Diversity communities. Since then, these communities have been referred to as “Priority Populations.”
These priority population networks have made it part of their mission to educate everyone about the harm these products can cause. These networks also work hard to help people understand the “why” behind the problem. This includes frank conversations about why these products are so easily available in our neighborhoods, and why our people have succumbed to nicotine addiction (among other substances).
Thanks to legislative withholdings, we are funded meagerly to do this work. Our work includes the difficult task of making effective use of these meager funds to cross the vast landscapes of our beautiful state. Our State does not fund any organization to focus solely upon nicotine related problems. Neither does our state specifically encourage specific changes around nicotine use. Each organization must balance this with myriad other demands to pay livable wages, and to remain compliant with various federal, state and local requirements to sustain ourselves.
There is an insult added to this existing injury. No money. You see, while countless other state entities are funded to consistently provide services, priority populations are not funded to operate year round. At the time of writing this, ‘priority populations’ have seen no funds to support work for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. As state supported entities, we are on a calendar that runs from July through June. The last time any priority population entities were funded was in June. It is now October.
These systemic pressures create scarcity, undermine relationships, and cannot be called public health, or science. It seems so ironic (now) that we are called Priority Populations, since our funding has apparently no priority at all. For a quarter of the fiscal year to have already passed before we have seen a dime is more than unfortunate. Scarcity does not support health. In fact, scarcity of funding and a lack of supportive, coordinated activities create added unpredictable variables to the lives of people already bearing great burdens in our society.
Priority populations working in nicotine reduction have lost an entire summer to engaging communities, preventing summer time starting nicotine use among our kids, and partnerships that relied upon consistent funding to remain in place. This is an election year, and we encourage you to vote, and make your voices heard. As Priority Populations, we share and value that no one of us can do well when another one of us is not. We invite you as members of these populations, as well as those who share the community with them, to partner with us, as we grow in making the best life possible for all New Mexicans. For more information contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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