Coalitions in Action: Distaste for Tobacco Brings about a Three-Panel Barn Billboard

If you paint it, they will come.

That’s what CADCA Coalition Advisory Committee member Greg Puckett hopes.

Puckett, the Executive Director of Community Connections, Inc., in West Virginia, and his colleagues will unveil a big, red barn Friday, July 15th, that community organizers know will give tobacco cessation attention.

In the style of a bygone era of advertising, the barn—the 12th in which Community Connections and other coalitions located throughout the Mountain State have been involved— has a simple message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s TIPS From Former Smokers campaign personality “Rebecca:” “Quitting isn’t about what you give up. It’s about what you get back.” The “Rebecca Barn” will be the first in the nation to feature a Tips from Former Smokers campaign personality. Rebecca, whose message is about her successfully quit smoking after starting to deal with bouts of depression, could really resonate with West Virginians.

According to Addressing Tobacco Use and Its Associated Health Conditions in West Virginia, a strategic plan released by the West Virginia Division of Tobacco Prevention, more than 40 percent (40.9 percent) of West Virginia adults diagnosed with depression report cigarette smoking, and almost 45 percent of this population report current tobacco use (use of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco). Given that the campaign has led to 100,000 people quitting smoking for good as well as preventing some 17,000 premature deaths nationally since its inception in 2012, featuring Rebecca’s “tip” on a barn is a culturally competent way of promoting tobacco cessation in West Virginia.

The barn, hand-painted by artist Scott Hagan in bright red, black and white, is reminiscent of the style of the Mail Pouch tobacco barn murals. Originating at its Wheeling, WV headquarters, the Mail Pouch Chewing Company was the first company to use this form of outdoor advertisement for the sale of tobacco products in the country. At the height of the program in the early 1960s, there were about 20,000 Mail Pouch barns and cityscapes spread across 22 states.

Puckett’s Community Connections is currently partnering with CADCA’s Geographic Health Equity Alliance (GHEA) for the completion of two barns. GHEA and Community Connections are working together to identify and paint a second barn that would focus on increasing awareness around smoking and how it can lead to or exacerbate colorectal cancer. This barn too will feature a Tips From Former Smoker Campaign real-life personal “tip.”

At one time, Puckett said Mail Pouch’s slogan was, “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco: Treat Yourself to the Best.”

Now, his coalition is working to reverse that trend with its healthful message for modern-day West Virginia residents: On the third panel of the barn is painted with West Virginia’s Tobacco quit line number (1-800-QUIT-NOW) with the slogan’s spin: “Treat yourself to health.”

It’s ironic, Puckett said, that tobacco prevention coalitions would adapt the method to advertise the harms of smoking.

In a similar way that Mail Pouch used to partner with barn owners and local businesses to advertise their products, the coalitions have also reached out to these sectors to collaborate on the project. The western side of the barn will have local business Millstone BBQ’s logo and contact information on it. The barn’s owner, Jim Thrush, will pay for the art promoting his business on that side of the three panels.

“Community coalitions dealing with tobacco usage continually need to have new tools and unique ways to reach a culturally diverse audience,” Puckett said. “By taking something culturally iconic like the Mail Pouch tobacco barns, and spinning them with a new prevention message, allows for instant connectivity and acceptance.”

In West Virginia, approximately 30 percent of adults use tobacco products. That’s 1 out of 4 people. The coalition is now gathering data on e-cigarette usage and is also working on a state policy to prohibit using tobacco products in cars with children passengers like its neighbor Virginia has recently implemented.

The barn is uniquely positioned near the site of the famous West Virginia Apple Festival, in Mineral County, so lots of people will see it driving along Route 50 and who attend the festival.

Angie Wolford, a coalition leader from Mineral County Tobacco prevention coalition, is working on the tobacco barn project with Puckett’s coalition, and says said she is proud to be a part of West Virginia history.

“Having the opportunity to work in Mineral County for the second barn in my region was a privilege,” Wolford said. “When I asked Mr. Thrush why he chose to work with us for the barn project, he replied, ‘Grandfather built the barn sometime in late ‘twenties. He told me of his struggle to give up tobacco and of the feeling of the accomplishment when he did. I think he would have liked the use of his old barn with caring information pertaining to an ongoing health problem for a lot of people.’”

The coalitions painted their first barn in 2009. This is their third red one in the state.

Wolford said, “That kind of response reminds me of why we do this job down in the trenches providing grassroots to our communities. It's what I believe in and am humbled to know that there are others who truly care and believe that helping to save lives through messages like the barn project matter. I would like to thank everyone who worked on or provided toward the project. It takes all of us to make a difference.”

Other barns in the state feature anti-spit tobacco messaging and there are even four that promote breast cancer awareness.

Do you want to learn more? Engage with GHEA. GHEA serves as a national network of coalitions, state programs, federal agencies, researchers, community and place-based organizations and other pertinent stakeholders, who aim to promote and execute evidence-based practices and emerging strategies to address geographical health disparities related to tobacco use, cancer prevention and survivorship. Both Puckett and GHEA will lead training next week at CADCA’s 15th annual Mid-Year Training Institute.