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Anti-Smoking Pioneer Wins Landmark Tobacco Control Laws

This week's Jefferson Award winner is a pioneer who's worked in the anti-smoking movement for more than two decades. Serena Chen says people call her all the time and ask for help to change a law. So she harnesses her skills as a former broadcast journalist and social worker to help them get it done.

Barbara Hamrick hated breathing secondhand smoke from her neighbors at Bonnie Brae Terrace in Belmont.

"You get headaches from the smoke," she explained.

Today, smoking is not allowed inside her government-subsidized complex.

"It's wonderful. You feel free!" she exclaimed.

"The retirement complex was Ground Zero for the nation's first smoke-free housing law, thanks in part to Serena Chen.

"My job was to give them hope," Chen said.

As policy director at the American Lung Association, Chen lobbied alongside a group of anti-smoking residents. They claimed victory when Belmont passed its landmark no-smoking law for apartments and condos in 2007.

"I could hear the sound of glass breaking, because there was a glass ceiling against going into people's homes," Chen said.

"She kept us going. It was a long haul," said Becky Housemann.

Hausmann's late father began the apartments' anti-smoking petition drive. She says Chen supplied much-needed policy information and emotional support to keep fighting.

"Her emphasis is always not on herself but on the other people out there doing the work in their communities, so she really is kind of a humble servant," said Hausmann.

Thanks to Chen's work in Belmont and the Bay Area, two million Californians in more than 30 cities now have smoke-free housing laws.

In all, she has advocated for more than 50 city and county smoke-free ordinances, from business districts to bus stops; from parks to public schools and public housing.

"In a very good sense, I saw my role always as an enabler," she explained. "I enable communities to get their voices heard."

So for helping citizens and their governments enact tobacco control laws, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Serena Chen.

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