Student Helps to Stamp Out Smoking at Sporting Events in Ireland

by Jennifer Lawless


Students of Public Health: Voices & Profiles focuses on research projects and other contributions students are making to advance public health.

Jennifer Lawless, BS

Student Voices — When I was looking for an internship, I knew I wanted to do something different. I wanted to travel and to see whether I could make a difference in other people’s lives abroad. With that in mind, I was moved when one of my professors at Appalachian State University, Dr. Christopher Seitz, shared with my class how he was granted the Fulbright scholarship and spent six months in Dublin, Ireland, gathering tobacco research while working with what is known as the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Health Clubs Project (HCP). I informed him that I was a dual citizen in America and Ireland, and that I had a high interest in completing my internship abroad. After contacting Stacey Cahill, National Health & Wellbeing Coordinator for GAA, I secured an internship position and role as a research student on an evaluation project for the GAA Health Clubs Project.

The GAA HCP began in 2013 in a hope to make family members of club players, as well as community members associated with the club, players, coaches, officials, and club administrators in Ireland, overall healthier. Areas of focus include physical activity, healthy eating, mental fitness, alcohol and drug education, and anti-smoking efforts.

My role within the Health Clubs Project was primarily focused on anti-smoking policies, and clubs that have already gone smoke free. The Health Clubs Project has been implementing smoke-free policies in phases in order to promote healthier settings, reduce exposure to carcinogens, and de-normalize smoking in club settings for the next generation. As a result of this program, 29 clubs associated with the GAA have gone smoke free, and 56 out of the 92 other clubs are making efforts to go smoke free in September.

The significance of the GAA in Ireland can be compared to that of the NFL in America. The GAA includes sports such as hurling, camogie, Gaelic football, Gaelic handball, and rounders. Many of these sports and athletes hold a heavy influence over the people of Ireland, especially the youth, and have helped shape the way individuals live their lives. Therefore, the increasing amount of smoke-free clubs is considered a great success for Ireland.

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I was able to start my research immediately and first began by interviewing managers from each club in charge of the HCP in order to see how they went smoke free and the kinds of barriers they may have faced when going through the process. I discovered that the mangers felt that the transition was fairly easy; however, some managers found it challenging to ban smoking when bars serving alcohol are located inside their facilities. They experienced pushback from some patrons, particularly from the elder population. Mangers stated it simply took time for people to come around, adjust, and accept smoking outside of the club grounds, but eventually they were successful.

After interviewing managers, I went out to different clubs in order to survey sporting event spectators on their thoughts and feelings regarding the new smoke-free policy. The consensus was that everyone is in favour and supports the policy’s implementation. Gathering this information was important to my research so that other clubs will have more ideas and/or a better platform of how to go smoke free, and how to overcome barriers that may present themselves in the future.

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The greatest obstacle I faced during my internship was the inability to travel throughout Ireland as I was not able to drive. (They drive on the opposite side the roads here!) Many of the clubs are located in rural areas, and I wasn’t able to get to all of them. This experience taught me that no matter how much you prepare, things may not go the way you planned, and that’s okay! Luckily, I was able to get enough data through telephone surveys and interviews to make an analysis on the program’s effectiveness.

While I couldn’t meet them all in person, I did have the opportunity to become acquainted with people all over Ireland. These great connections have made this internship unforgettable. On top of that, I have learned more than I ever thought I would. I learned how to do conduct interviews, surveys, and data analysis; how to give speeches; help run conferences; and many other things. Some tasks came with ease, while others caused me difficulty. I reminded myself to ask for help when I was struggling, and to not let negative things get me down because you do not always get it right the first time. My confidence has grown tremendously over the past couple of months. This opportunity has helped prepare me for my future because I know even if I get thrown into something new, I will be able to get through it.

As the internship winds up, I realize I will have completed a research project from start to finish — and after only having graduated as an undergraduate just a couple of months ago! I hope to continue doing research and education with tobacco cessation programs, and to help end the use of tobacco and tobacco-related products in the future.

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Remember the days when public smoking proliferated sporting events in the US? No? Well, that’s probably because tobacco cessation programs designed to de-normalize smoking in public places were effectively carried out by folks very much like Jennifer Lawless, a recent public health graduate from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, who just completed an internship abroad where she helped to stamp out smoking at sporting events in Gaelic Athletic Clubs across the beautiful country of Ireland. https://wp.me/s7l72S-10322


Jennifer Lawless recently graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor of science degree in health promotion and a minor in psychology. She was raised in Harrisburg, North Carolina, and has always had a passion for traveling and helping others.

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