Illana Naylor bounced and twirled around the food court at Manassas Mall, trying to draw the attention of passersby to the sandwich board hanging from her neck. Those who came close quickly realized she wasn’t advertising fast food — she was decked in anti-tobacco messages.
“Do you smoke?” she called out to shoppers and mall-walkers.
Live Well, a new public health effort run by the Prince William Health District and Health Partnership and funded by the Centers for Disease Control, hosted its inaugural event Wednesday, setting up an information station at the mall.
Allison Ansher, the director of the health district, said the program aims to reduce smoking and improve nutrition and exercise habits in the Prince William area. Other initiatives could include encouraging landlords to create smoke-free units, she said.
On Wednesday, several women who work with the health district manned a table loaded with anti-tobacco pledges, graphic posters and brochures for seemingly every issue a smoker or potential smoker might raise, such as “Quit Smoking Without Gaining Weight.”
Naylor’s sandwich board asked, “How much money are you spending on cigarettes?” Her sign said that at a cost of nearly $5 a pack, a pack-a-day smoker could save up enough money for Super Bowl tickets or a big-screen TV in just one year by kicking the habit. In five years, the former smoker could put all that cigarette money toward a trip to Hawaii. In 10 years? A car or a down payment on a house.
Naylor asked a man walking out of the food court whether he smoked. “It’s my only bad habit,” Charles Amberger replied.
Ansher jumped in. “We’re going to encourage you to quit,” she told Amberger, trying to hand him the phone number of a hotline.
“Don’t you want to go to Hawaii in five years? Don’t you want to put a down payment on a house in 10 years?” Naylor piped up.
Amberger brushed them off. “Hey, if I survived Vietnam, I’m not worried about it,” he said.
Others were more receptive to Live Well’s message. Joseph Quamsah, a security guard at the mall, tried one of the quiz questions at the Live Well table. He guessed that health-care bills directly related to smoking added up to $25 million annually in Virginia. “Are you serious?” he asked when he learned that the correct answer was $3 billion a year.
Several teenagers approached when they saw Mikey, a service dog used by Live Well volunteer Virginia Morales, at the table. As they pet Mikey, she asked them whether they smoked.
A few people asked whether they could get paid for quitting and then walked away when they found out they couldn’t. But others stuck around to complete a survey about their exposure to cigarette advertisements.
Rosa Turcios, 18, said the survey hit home. She does not smoke, she said, but many of her friends do, and she thinks the advertisements in places they hang out encouraged them to start.
“You go to this gas station to get some food, and all you see is cigarettes. The kids are going to want them. And even if they’re underage, they’re going to find some adult who doesn’t care who will buy them for them,” she said.
Morales, a retired high school Spanish teacher, said she had seen plenty of students who smoke outside school. “It was sort of a socially acceptable thing for them,” she said as she sat at the Live Well table. “The only thing I can think of to do something about it is this kind of information.”