The Virginia chapter of the American Lung Association long has encouraged Virginians to quit smoking. Now the organization is set to quit Virginia.
Faced with a sharp decline in funding and a political climate that hints at fewer tobacco restrictions with Republican political gains, organization leaders confirm that the local chapter will cease after July.
Based in Richmond, the Virginia chapter also has represented North Carolina and Maryland since July 2007, when a previous restructuring effort consolidated the three state chapters. Last year's round of layoffs trimmed staff of the three state branches and this latest restructuring will eliminate three local positions.Aÿ
“The volunteer leadership and the paid leadership in the Atlantic coast determined that their best course of action would be to restructure mainly because of some funding issues they've been experiencing,” says Carrie Martin, vice president of communications with the American Lung Association's national headquarters in Washington. “Things are winding down.”
Martin stresses that the chapter's closure does not signal a retreat from Virginia or North Carolina, which are the home bases of tobacco manufacturing giants Altria and R.J. Reynolds, respectively.
State and national executives are working out just what programs might continue, rolled into the Washington-based national entity, says Melina Davis-Martin, president and chief executive of Atlantic coast region.
Late last year, the national organization gave Virginia and North Carolina grades of F in its annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, despite gains in both states on anti-smoking initiatives, including Virginia's ban on smoking in restaurants and bars. National leadership considered that ban weak.
“We feel it's extremely important for Virginia to close the loopholes for the smoking rooms in restaurants and bars,” Davis-Martin says, indicating that the national organization accepts only a complete ban as successful legislation.
Thomas Carr, its manager of national policy, says trying to prop up the regional group during at least the next four years likely would be futile: “I believe politically, trying to improve a smoke-free law in the next few years [in Virginia], it'd be difficult anyway.”
But Dr. Louis Sullivan, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, called the change unfortunate.
“It's regrettable and somewhat ironic that the regional office of the Lung Association. … is ceasing to exist,” Sullivan says. “We need to have efforts to educate Virginians and North Carolinians as much as ever.”