Director’s Corner for 2023 – A recap of my first year at SCLC

It is hard to believe that a year has gone by since I joined SCLC as its new Director. It has a been a year of growth, balance, and integration for me. I have started to connect the spaces that I regularly occupy as a general internist, educator, and researcher into the work of SCLC. I have benefited from getting to know you, our partners, and your work in tobacco cessation. 

When I think about the root causes of tobacco use among youth and adult populations, I think about structural inequities, stress, and trauma. I think about how hard day-to-day life is for some people in the US, and the role that tobacco plays to alleviate that stress. I feel it is important to acknowledge those upstream causes when discussing tobacco use, work together to dismantle those systemic inequities, encourage wellness, and tap into the inherent resilience present in our communities. I am inspired by your collective work in tobacco cessation. 

With any transition comes a period of adjustment, and I want to thank the SCLC team for their support, patience, and openness as I transitioned into the Director role. I want to highlight some of our achievements from last year—our 20th year— and forecast ahead to some of the exciting opportunities for collaboration for next year. 

Center of Excellence for Tobacco Free Recovery. This year brought us to our fifth and final year as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)-funded, Center of Excellence for Tobacco Free Recovery (CTFR). We focused on two main efforts: (1) launching Tennessee as a leadership academy state and (2) hosting a multistate forum for leadership academy states. 

  • Tennessee leadership academy. The Tennessee leadership academy, held in Nashville, TN was planned and sponsored by SCLC in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Health, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Use Services, and the National Behavioral Health Network for Tobacco and Cancer Control. The 29 state leaders and participants worked together to identify tobacco prevalence reduction targets among their behavioral health populations, and jointly developed an action plan to achieve those prevalence reduction targets over the next 5 years.  
  • Multistate forum. We hosted an energizing multistate forum, attended by 20 of the 25 leadership academy states. The multistate forum offered an opportunity for collaboration and shared learning on innovative approaches, successes, and challenges. Through a leadership-facilitated approach and the concept of open space conversations, state partners collectively worked on identifying solutions to known barriers that hinder tobacco cessation efforts in behavioral health populations. 

We learned earlier this year that we did not receive SAMHSA funding to continue as a CTFR. While we are disappointed by this news, we are encouraged and proud that the leadership academy model that SCLC pioneered has been adopted by other tobacco control organizations. We will continue to provide technical assistance to state partners and assist you in any way we can, including referring you to the new CTFR, CAI Global, for convening new leadership academies. We are excited to build on our leadership academy model to place-based interventions for tobacco use in community mental health clinics, and in service settings for justice-involved populations and people experiencing homelessness. Stay tuned for these and other developments next year. 

National Partnership on Behavioral Health and Tobacco Use. This year brought us to our seventh year of the National Partnership for Behavioral Health and Tobacco Use, funded initially by the American Cancer Society and currently by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We held our first in-person convening of the National Partners after the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2023. Through a leadership-focused approach, the 24 National Partners from tobacco control, mental health and substance use, government, and state partners identified key challenges and opportunities for collaboration in the areas of system change, policy, education, and diversity/equity in tobacco control. This meeting and the National Partners’ collective work provided the impetus for renewing the National Partnership on Behavioral Health and Tobacco Use. In the next year, using the National Partners’ input, we will delve deep into our toolkits, materials, and resources for tobacco control to integrate a perspective that incorporates lived experience and intersectionality. Stay tuned for more information on these new efforts in the upcoming year. 

California Center for Tobacco Cessation (CA-CTC). This year marked our first year as the California Center for Tobacco Cessation, a Center funded by the California Department of Public Health, focused on capacity building and technical assistance to support California’s Tobacco Endgame Goals. The CA-CTC held:

  • Two tobacco treatment specialists’ trainings, each attended by 30 to 40 providers across behavioral health, public health, and medical disciplines. 
  • A behavioral health regional training for 85 behavioral health providers and tobacco control advocates in Yuba County. 
  • Two Trauma Addiction Mental Health and Recovery (TAMAR) trainings in partnership with the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Center for Innovation in Health Policy. The trainings were held in San Francisco and Yuba County, each attended by over 25 people. 

SCLC was one of the panelists for a webinar hosted by the California Tobacco Prevention Program on “Big Tobacco’s Fantasyland: Countering Big Tobacco’s Harm Reduction Rebrand” where we presented content on why big tobacco has no place in cessation. Next year will bring more trainings and new efforts to evaluate the extent to which California’s Medicaid-covered tobacco treatment services are reaching our disproportionately impacted populations.  

Other achievements. We hosted 11 webinars this year, all rated highly and attended by hundreds across behavioral health, public health, and tobacco control. Through trainings and webinar accreditation, we were able to provide 6,126 continuing education units this past year. We want to thank our esteemed speakers. I want to highlight some of our webinars that I will be viewing again.

SCLC is partnering with Dr. Valerie Yerger, Professor in the Department of Social Behavioral Sciences at UCSF and Co-founder of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council on the Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative. Together with Dr. Yerger and colleagues, we will be launching the Spiral Up Lite App to make emotional brain training accessible for stress management and smoking cessation in the new year. 

It has been a busy year! We end this year with deep gratitude for your continued collaboration and wish you safe and happy holidays. See you in 2024!