MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The opportunity to arm the East African community with knowledge about the dangers of hookah and secondhand smoke excites Bilal Alkatout.
Alkatout is a program manager with WellShare International, which is one of nine organizations participating in a coordinated media effort by the Minnesota Department of Health. The plan debuted on Nov. 3 with radio ads on KFAI radio in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
“This is a major media effort that is so culturally specific,” Alkatout said. “I think that’s the really cool thing. When a community member is exposed to general media, they start to think they are just different, and it doesn’t speak to them directly. This campaign will be speaking directly to the East African Community.”
The initial phase of the media effort will include the radio ads, as well as print ads. Beginning in December, it will kick into high gear with billboards in the East African communities in the Metro, as well as inside Metro Transit busses and stations.
Alkatout is the manager of the Smoke-Free East African Program at WellShare International. The program, with staff Abdillahi Ganey, Saida Mohamed and Adar Kahin, started in February 2013 and focuses on providing tobacco-free health education and outreach efforts within the East African community. It also implements tobacco- and smoke-free policies in the nine-county Metro area. The program works to reduce the harm caused by tobacco and secondhand smoke among Somali and East African children, youth and adults through innovative community awareness and health education activities to change social norms around tobacco use.
WellShare International is an international and domestic nonprofit health organization founded in 1979. Its mission is advance sustainable community health around the world. It is guided by a commitment to full community involvement and the transfer of simple technologies and methods for educating and transforming communities.
Alkatout’s team has seen an alarming lack of knowledge in the Somali community when it comes to tobacco use, particularly the use of hookah. In some areas of the world, the use of hookah is cultural and traditional. That’s not the case with the Somali community. It’s a learned behavior used as a social outlet.
“It’s the right of the individuals to know what those risks are,” Alkatout said. “There’s a lack of knowledge on the risks of tobacco and smoking.”
The effort is funded by a Tobacco Free Communities in Minnesota (TFC) grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. Through this program, organizations such as WellShare International are working to create healthier communities by preventing and reducing tobacco use among youth and young adults, eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke and identifying and eliminating tobacco-related health disparities.