Tobacco, air quality on the agenda for Utah County Health Board

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The Utah County Board of Health met at the Utah County Health and Justice building, pictured above, on Mar. 24. The main topics of discussion were minors and tobacco and air quality. (Photo courtesy of Samuel Broomhead)

The Utah County Board of Health met to discuss reducing sales of tobacco to minors as well as using the Bus Rapid Transit system as a solution for poor air quality on March 24.

The first part of the meeting awarded locals who have properly reduced tobacco sales to minors.

One of the presenters was Sarah Simons, an educator for the health department who leads an anti-tobacco activism group called Outrage. This group’s mission is to stop marketing and sales of tobacco to minors.

Every year, Outrage pays several minors to attempt to purchase tobacco products from local businesses as a test. The businesses are graded by their responses. If the business checks the minors’ identification and refuses to sell to them, the business passes.

Simons presented certificate plaques to representatives of eight Utah County businesses who have passed her tests five years in a row. These businesses included convenience stores, gas stations and even a smoking lounge.

According to Simons, not all Utah County businesses pass.

“A small amount sell to the minors; about five percent,” Simons said. “Each year it gets better and better.”

Simons said that in her latest campaign against youth-targeted tobacco advertising, Outrage invited students from local high schools to enter an anti-tobacco video contest, where the winner received $500. According to Simons, the competition received 68 entries.

The Utah County Board of Health shifted attention to air quality later in the meeting. According to Joseph Miner, Utah County Board of Health secretary, air quality in Provo is a major issue.

“Provo has the reputation as one of the worst cities in the nation on the bad days,” Miner said.

Henry Yeates, M.D., Utah County Board of Health, said it only takes three days of bad air quality before residents begin to get sick.

“We need to start taking steps to clean the air,” Yeates said.

Andrew Jackson, executive director of Mountainlands Association of Governments, presented Provo City’s plan to build a Bus Rapid Transport system, which would provide frequent buses and new routes with more stops.

According to Jackson, the new system would dramatically decrease vehicle pollution emissions by providing a more convenient public transportation system for residents to choose over their personal vehicles.

“The buses will be frequent enough that you don’t need a timetable. You don’t need to plan ahead; you can just wait five minutes and the next bus will arrive,” Jackson said.

According to Jackson, some other potential benefits of a successful Bus Rapid Transit system is that the Provo-Orem diagonal will not likely have to expand lanes to facilitate growing traffic, and it will decrease the number of daily “cold starts.”

Jackson said “cold starting” is the first time a person starts their car for a trip. After first starting, emissions are greater than after the vehicle warms up. According to Jackson, it takes about one minute of driving for most vehicles to warm up and decrease their air emissions.

Jackson said the Bus Rapid Transit system would place enough stops in populated areas that residents would not need to drive to bus or train stations. According to Jackson, this will also significantly reduce cold starts.

Jackson said creating and implementing the Bus Rapid Transit system would cost $75 million of federal funding and $75 million of local sales tax.

Board members unanimously agreed by the end of the presentation to create a statement of support for the Bus Rapid Transit system because they see it as an effective measure to clean the air in Utah County.

“I would throw my weight behind anything that will improve the air quality and the quality of life in Utah County,” said Utah County Board of Health chair Doug Witney. “However, the price tag matters.”

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