Walking the Talk: The Value of Multi-Sectoral Leaders in Expanding Tobacco-Free Living - Milwaukee, Wisconsin


In June 2012, the American Lung Association in Wisconsin received a grant from the American Lung Association National Headquarters to focus on tackling the serious health consequences of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke for residents of multi-unit housing, particularly low-income Milwaukee residents who live in subsidized housing. Understanding that an initiative of this magnitude would require a broad multi-sectoral leadership team with ties into the Milwaukee community and a firm commitment to reducing tobacco-related health disparities such as asthma and COPD, the American Lung Association in Wisconsin has partnered with key leaders in the Milwaukee area to form the Smokefree Milwaukee Homes Coalition. The Coalition is comprised of the Milwaukee Tobacco Free Alliance, Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network, and the Hispanic Latino Tobacco Prevention Network and they will work to protect over 9,000 low-income Milwaukee residents living in multi-unit housing from secondhand smoke exposure.

Cross Connections: Multi-Sectoral Leaders Making the Link

While strategizing at the CTG Action Institute in August, leadership team member Alderman Joe Davis informed the coalition's leadership team that a KaBOOM! playground was being built in one of the smokefree multi-unit housing targeted zip codes. KaBOOM! is a national non-profit dedicated to building sustainable play spaces through the participation and leadership of communities. Alderman Davis advised group members to reach out the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center Resident Council who were leading the effort to develop the KaBOOM! playground and make the request that the soon-to-be developed playground be smokefree.

The KaBOOM! Playground development is a partnership project between The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, the Westlawn Resident Council, Humana Inc. and, KaBOOM! The customized playground, funded primarily by Humana (a leading health and wellness company), was created with personal drawings and input from local community members – from children to seniors – with the intent of being built in six hours. The playground is an important piece of an ongoing revitalization plan for the Westlawn neighborhood, Wisconsin's largest public housing community. The playground will be the first new construction on Westlawn's western half, and it will set the stage for the continued public health improvements in the neighborhood.


On September 6, 2012 members from the CTG smokefree multi-unit housing leadership team met with the Westlawn Resident Council to share information on the public health and economic benefits of a smokefree playground. As a result, the Council agreed that the new Westlawn neighborhood playground be smokefree and considered additional public health and nuisance rules such as prohibiting alcohol, loitering and loud music etc. On September 29, 2012, over 100 Westlawn community volunteers joined forces and rolled up their sleeves to build a one-of-a-kind, multi-generational playground in the Westlawn Neighborhood.

Future Directions

Engaging the Westlawn Resident Council was a crucial first step in establishing a relationship with a key stakeholder in improving the health and well-being of Milwaukee's public housing residents. For the first time, families in the Westlawn community will now have access to a playground of their own with the additional benefit that this playground is free of secondhand smoke. The Smokefree Milwaukee Homes Coalition is currently in discussions with the Council to design the smokefree signs for the playground. This smokefree playground victory was a real win for the300 plus Westlawn residents who now have access to it and this effort will pave the way for future smokefree efforts including protecting thousands of Milwaukee multi-unit housing residents from harmful secondhand smoke exposure.