Health booster sets new goal to ban public-building puffing

Published 12:08 pm Friday, December 17, 2010

A community health advocate and local gym owner is seeking a ban on smoking on all tax-paid properties and facilities in Vicksburg.

“Smoking kills people,” the 55-year-old Linda Fondren, who has been featured on national television for her free weight-loss campaigns, told Vicksburg’s Port City Kiwanis Club Thursday. “This is about healthy living and healthy lifestyles. Smoking, the lack of physical activity, the lack of healthy eating all contribute to chronic illnesses that come later in life.”

Fondren said she has approached Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield about her intentions to campaign against smoking on taxpayers’ property and plans to address the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen as well as the Warren County Board of Supervisors after the holidays.

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“I have been to many other cities, and I see what they are doing to improve the health of their citizens,” she said. “At what point do we step up and say we care about ourselves?”

In speaking with Winfield, Fondren said she was met with “careful consideration.”

The city prohibits smoking in city vehicles, but has no ordinance against smoking on public property.

“I’m not opposed to a ban on smoking on city-owned property,” said Winfield, who is not a smoker.

“It’s something we would need to talk about and study,” he said.

He said this kind of initiative would require a petition from citizens before being brought to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

“There are other dynamics in place,” he said. “This is just shy of invading privacy rights. People may do things to harm their health, but that’s their right.”

Insurance companies offer incentives for employers who designate their property smoke-free, and Winfield said the city, which is self-insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, will research the situation.

The City of Ridgeland, which has a population of about 21,000, also is self-insured.

Two years ago, the city enacted a ban on smoking on all city facilities and properties, which include the Madison County town’s city hall, police and fire departments, public works buildings, courts, parks and vehicles, City Clerk David Overby said.

He said the ban is working well there.

“We’ve had an ongoing program to improve health among our employees,” Overby said.

Other initiatives Fondren has put in motion since her launch last year of Shape Up Vicksburg are a 17-week weight-loss challenge to the city that includes a walking club with about 400 members registered and the Healthy Role Models for Students program.

For these efforts, she was selected from an international pool as a top 10 finalist in the 2010 CNN Heroes Tribute last month and was awarded $25,000 to continue her crusade against obesity.

She plans to spend the money on marketing drives to promote and implement more programs to help the community unanimously toward a healthy lifestyle.

In development is a counseling group for about 50 of Warren County’s low-income and overweight women.

“This is for the women who don’t have a way to get to the resources,” Fondren said.

“I will give them the tools like child care, transportation and a workout facility, not just to lose weight, but for a life transformation,” she said.

Fondren is working to secure state and federal grants to operate her programs.

“I’ll be tracking to see if they get a job, tracking their weight loss,” she said. “I’m tracking to see if this is working. If not, then we have to change it. Even if we don’t get the funds, it won’t stop me because we have a community that will help.”