Clear the air in Birmingham’s Health District by decreasing secondhand smoke and increasing walkability

The Birmingham Health District is an effort to create a healthier area by being smoke-free and walkable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is a 25 to 30 percent increased risk of developing heart disease among nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work. In an effort to decrease secondhand smoke exposure and improve walkability, Birmingham’s Health District was launched one year ago. The Health District focuses on limiting the amount of smoking exposure and providing a health-focused environment for individuals to walk around the area without secondhand smoke exposure.

“As we celebrate our first year of going smoke-free in the Health District, we look to the future of making Birmingham a healthier community by building upon healthy habits,” said Mark Wilson, health officer of the Jefferson County Department of Public Health. “Our community continues to see enhanced walkability, making it crucial to decrease people’s exposure to secondhand smoke.”

What is the Birmingham Health District?

The Health District is a smoke-free area spanning roughly from 12th Avenue South to Fourth Avenue South, and Eighth Street South to 22nd Street South. All sidewalks, streets, bus stops, parks and other outdoor public areas in the Health District were designated smoke-free as of Dec. 1, 2019, to promote health and wellness among residents and visitors to the area.

“Much of the Health District area is walkable and a place where those in the area can enjoy being outside,” said Rebecca Kennedy, Ph.D., assistant vice president for UAB Student Health and Wellbeing. “Secondhand smoke impacts the walkability of an area and the health of those in the area. Together, we can make a difference in each other’s overall health and well-being by limiting the amount of secondhand smoke taken in.”

As a commitment to promoting healthy living, several health-focused entities in the area have joined together to improve the air breathed in by employees, area residents and visitors. Health District partner organizations continue to make smoking-cessation resources available.

Partners of the Health District to support its nonsmoking policies include Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Children’s of Alabama, City of Birmingham, Cooper Green Mercy Health Services, Jefferson County Department of Health, Southern Research, UAB Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Impact of secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoke is defined by the National Cancer Institute as smoke that comes from the burning of a tobacco product and smoke that is exhaled by smokers. Inhaling secondhand smoke is dangerous as it contains carcinogens that can cause cancer, respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease and stroke and can lead to death. Carcinogens found in secondhand smoke include arsenic, lead, radioactive elements, formaldehyde and benzene.

Have questions about the Health District? Click here to learn more.

“The goal of this Health District is to encourage our patients, staff, visitors and community to live healthy lives free of tobacco products,” said Susan Walley, M.D., professor in the UAB School of MedicineDepartment of Pediatrics. “The Health District is part of the commitment that UAB and partner organizations made to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke and, importantly, provide support and resources for tobacco users to quit.”

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there is no safe level of first- or secondhand smoke, and more than 20 million Americans have died because of smoking, including 2.5 million nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. If smoking rates remain as they are, the Department of Health and Human Services predicts 5.6 million children age 18 and under today will die early from smoking.

Live a smoke-free life

Quitting smoking is one of the single best things that can be done for one’s health and for the health of others. Alabamians have several resources to live a healthier, smoke-free life, including: 

  • The Alabama Tobacco Quitline is a resource to help Alabamians quit smoking. Simply call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-7848-669) or visit quitnowalabama.comfor more information.
  • American Cancer Society’s “Quit for Life” tobacco use cessation program is available by calling 1-888-768-7848or visiting
  • Partner organizations have resources available to their patients, students and employees. Click here to learn more.

To help encourage healthy living and compliance within the Health District, here are some general things to do or say:

UAB research on how smoking impacts your health: New research hopes to identify individuals at risk of clinically significant COPD.

  • “This is the smoke-free Health District as part of the Birmingham ordinance. Information about areas where smoking is allowed nearby can be found at That website will also tell you where you can find resources like nicotine replacement therapy in the smoke-free district.”
  • Engage your human resources, patient resources and student affairs departments in establishing organization-specific ways to encourage healthy living on campus.
  • Know and share smoking/tobacco cessation resources offered by organizations partnering in the Health District initiative.
  • Employers may choose to provide digital or printed communication resources.
  • Encourage employees to comply with the organizational policies/city ordinance part of performance reviews and/or goal setting.
  • Become a “Live HealthSmart” partner.
  • Share news stories about the Health District with your colleagues and friends. 

The Health District fits hand-in-hand with UAB’s Grand Challenge, Live HealthSmart, that is focused on moving Alabama up from among the worst states in health outcomes like diabetes and heart disease, and into the 30s by 2030.