Meet New AHA Advocate Geralyn Laut

Trained as a health educator and certified as both a prevention professional and a tobacco treatment specialist, it is not surprising that much of my work over the years has leaned heavily on the age-old adage ... "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".

hero_image_alt_text===An image of Geralyn Laut.

While counseling “want to be” ex-smokers over a span of 30 plus years, I have witnessed firsthand the devastating effects tobacco use has on an individual, as a critical and major risk factor for most forms of cardiovascular disease as well as its relationship to all aspects of respiratory disease and most types of cancers.

One of the many incentives for me when helping an adult quit smoking is the fact that I may very well be reducing youth initiation to tobacco use, by diminishing their exposure to second-hand smoke through the establishment of tobacco-free homes and easy access to cigarettes as a young child or teen. In the prevention arena, we often refer to the need for multiple strategies in multiple settings, which has led me to become a strong advocate for policy initiatives that strive to deter behaviors that would otherwise cause an individual or the community at large harm.

While working for the Meriden Department of Health, I spearheaded efforts to prohibit tobacco use in all city parks and recreational fields as well as within 25 feet of municipal buildings, again to alter the social norms surrounding tobacco use and in turn, to deter youth initiation.

Nicotine is a powerful and highly addictive drug and a very high percentage of those who simply try it, become dependent and are often unable to refrain from use, despite numerous quit attempts. We must do more to ensure youth don't make a choice as a teen that will undoubtedly shorten their lifespan as an adult. I was thrilled to hear about the American Heart Association's efforts along with other members of the state's anti-tobacco coalition known as MATCH, and readily joined forces to raise awareness about Tobacco21 during this year's legislative session.

I purposely attended a Glastonbury Town Council Meeting requesting them to publicly support the Tobacco 21 campaign, to spark publicity in our local newspaper which it did, and despite a close vote along party lines with Democrats leading in support, the Council sent a letter of support to our local legislators at the State level. In turn I attended the AHA Lobby Day at the Capitol and enlisted the support of a Glastonbury High School student who accompanied me to both Senator Cassano and Representative Srinivasan's offices, urging them to support the proposed bill intended to raise the legal purchase age for tobacco (to include E-cigarettes and other vaping devices) to 21. The voice of a 16-year-old who could share her concerns about the rampant rise in vaping devices among her peers was especially valuable.

Despite the support of multiple co-sponsors on the Tobacco 21 bill raised this year, it needed the "village" to pass, and that didn't happen. So, I will continue to assist the AHA's efforts to make sure our vision becomes reality, that no person under the age of 21 will be able to purchase tobacco in Connecticut, a policy that I believe will result in less heart disease and cancer, and more birthdays!

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