The Coast News Group
The Tobacco Control Program team at the Vista Community Clinic, top row from left, Program Manager Gena Knutson, Prevention Specialist Lauren Pallasigui and Program Coordinator Jessica Perales. Bottom from left, Media Specialist/Prevention Specialist Fatima Ashaq and Prevention Specialist Haley Guiffrida. Courtesy photo
Community Vista Vista Featured

Vista Community Clinic raises bar on tobacco control programs

Health groups across the county and nation continue to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking. In North County, the Vista Community Clinic is putting this health issue at the forefront with its Tobacco Control Program.

Fatima Ashaq, media specialist and prevention specialist at the clinic, said the Tobacco Control Program is part of its Health Promotion Center. 

The Health Promotion Center focuses on supportive and preventative resources for the community. The Tobacco Control Program has different focuses such as having a smoke-free environment through policy changes and minimizing tobacco product access to the younger population.

On its victory roster, the clinic’s Tobacco Control Program secured smoke-free beaches in Oceanside in 2007, and in Carlsbad one year later. Smoke-free parks were enacted in Oceanside in 2007, San Marcos and Carlsbad in 2008 and Escondido and Vista in 2009.

When it comes to smoke-free amusement and entertainment venues, Vista Community Clinic’s program successfully pulled out tobacco product usage at LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, Moonlight Amphitheatre and Wave Waterpark in Vista and The San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido.

Ashaq said the program has youth coalition clubs on three different high school campuses in North County at Oceanside High School, El Camino High School and Rancho Buena Vista High School.

Each club has around 25 students taking part in the program.

“What we do within our youth coalition is we empower students to have the tools and resources to not get into tobacco or drugs,” she said. “We partner our youth coalitions with our alcohol and other drug prevention programs as well.”

Ashaq said these programs help students with public speaking and teach them how to lead a successful and drug-free life. 

“Within our Tobacco Control Program, we also have our Smoke-Free Homes Project,” Ashaq said. “Our main goal for our Smoke-Free Homes Project is to reduce secondhand smoke exposure inside the home. Our program so far had about an 85 percent success rate in taking smoking outside of the home.”

Ashaq said the program isn’t about smoking cessation. Instead, it guides people to smoke outside. However, something surprising happened with the Smoke-Free Homes Project.

“We found that within our program, we’ve had a very high success rate of individuals that quit smoking,” she said.

The clinic’s Tobacco Control Program is also tackling the rise in e-cigarette usage. It was instrumental in the ban on electric smoking devices where smoking is not allowed. This came into effect in Vista and Carlsbad in 2013.  Poway, Oceanside, San Marcos and North County Transit District enforced this decision in 2014.

Ashaq said her department is working hard on the e-cigarettes front because advertisements attract the younger population. 

“This is something that we are definitely putting our efforts into so that we can prevent and protect our youth from that type of media influence or advertising exposure,” she said. 

Ashaq said her fellow staff members have been leading presentations for parents and school administrators so that they can have the knowledge about “vapes” and e-cigarettes.

“A lot of our community members including school administrators and schools, in general, have reached out to us for these educational presentations,” she said.

The Tobacco Control Program was recently awarded a state-funded grant. Ashaq said they are looking forward to using those funds so that they can make a more significant impact in North County.

Looking ahead, smoking cessation classes will be offered this summer. 

On a personal level, Ashaq is passionate about her work.

“It’s been so fulfilling,” she said. “Every day, I’m able to see how lives can be changed through our program and the work that we do by giving individuals resources and opportunities to better their lives.”

To learn more about Vista Community Clinic’s Tobacco Control program, visit