Smoking out Tobacco

Clinical Professor Helps Pass “Tobacco 21” Law in Texas

Publication Date: 10/30/2019

As a pharmacy student in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Frank Yu developed a passion for helping underserved populations while volunteering in low income communities with the Student National Pharmaceutical Association. Now, as a clinical assistant professor, he shares that same passion with students in the UT Tyler Fisch College of Pharmacy.

“In Memphis, I saw firsthand the vast health disparities that existed in my patients. It was this passion that led me to Tyler, as there are similarly large health disparities here in East Texas,” said Yu, whose research and scholarship interests include public health, experiential education and the advancement of community pharmacy.

A realization early on shifted his interests away from direct patient care and towards public health policy. Yu, a certified tobacco treatment specialist, counseled countless patients about quitting smoking at a low-income clinic in Tyler.

“The more time I spent with patients, the more I realized that there is only so much that one pharmacist can do to help them,” he said. “I came to understand that the single most effective method to broadly improve the public health was through public policy.”

Three years ago, he became a member of the UT System Eliminate Tobacco Use Steering Committee. The committee discussed ways to reduce and ultimately eliminate tobacco use in Texas. Locally, he met with various stakeholders to discuss the possibility of raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products in Tyler from age 18 to 21, known later as the “Tobacco 21” Movement. 

Yu was instrumental in promoting the movement and helping interested UT Tyler students in advocacy efforts during the 86th Texas Legislative Session.

“As smoking is still the No. 1 preventable cause of death, and as vaping among youth is now an epidemic, the new law significantly reduces potential for addiction due to a further developed brain. Most of my patients have told me they started smoking when they were teenagers and wish they did not, as it is incredibly difficult to quit.”

About 95 percent of smokers start before age 21, and around 12,000 children in Texas became daily smokers annually, Yu said.

“The students saw first-hand how their advocacy efforts and the efforts of others were able to make a difference,” he said. “Multiple states including California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon have raised their tobacco sales ages to 21, which has reduced the number of new tobacco users in those states; so, I think we are definitely headed in the right direction.”

Yu currently serves as a faculty co-adviser for the Texas Pharmacy Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists at UT Tyler. He also serves on the Public Policy Council of the Texas Pharmacy Association. He continues working with University students and the community by serving in leadership capacities with student community service professional organizations.

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