Oklahoma Spotlight: A Lesson in Outreach and Patience: Going Smokefree with Free The Night

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This photo is from a 'Club By Storm' celebration event in Tulsa, OK. Pictured center is Campaign Manager, Kathleen Thomas, along with Free The Night supporters raising awareness for lung health and lung cancer.

While partnering can take patience, and outreach doesn’t always seem effective, you never know what will happen unless you try. Keep on reading to learn about the Free The Night Initiative, making more establishments in Oklahoma smokefree, and how YOU can help spread the word.


“Free The Night is a statewide campaign in Oklahoma dedicated to supporting smokefree bars and clubs.”

Free The Night (FTN) has worked with 35 bars and clubs across Oklahoma to voluntarily go smokefree indoors, benefiting both employees and customers! Most recently, Bleu Garten in Oklahoma City made the decision to open their season with a smokefree atmosphere, as did The Other Room in Paseo District. Also in January, 2018, a Stillwater venue (who is still not ready to publicly announce) made plans with us to transition to smokefree.

How do you get business owners interested in your health initiative?

We tell bar owners that we understand change is hard, and try to get them as much evidence as possible that going smokefree is the best decision for their particular venue. It often takes owners months, sometimes even years, of pondering, talking to their staff, asking customers, and rereading our information before they make a change. We do everything we can to work with each venue on an individual basis and focus on what is important to them.

What does it take from start to finish to get a business owner’s support?

We start reaching out to each smoking venue the same way: by dropping off an outreach packet and getting management contact information. The outreach packet contains:

  1. An introduction letter;
  2. A summary of the results from our large survey of Oklahomans’ preferences on smokefree bars;
  3. A testimonial page with quotes from owners who already run smokefree venues;
  4. A “Why Smokefree?” page with statistics on things like bartender health;
  5. A sample contract that shows what FTN will provide a venue that goes smokefree (like out advertising);
  6. A sample pledge that details what we request a venue does to be ‘smokefree’ (asking anyone smoking to stop or leave, putting up no smoking signs, etc); and
  7. An implementation and enforcement guide with suggestions for going smokefree.

We then attempt follow-up with each owner a week or so after they receive the outreach packet to see if they have questions or concerns, and to offer them an intercept survey so they can see exactly what their customers think of the venue going smokefree.

A great example of the ideal process we use is Mercury Lounge in Tulsa. We first dropped off an outreach packet in early 2015, and despite our attempts to do follow-up, didn’t hear from them again until May 2016 when they were voted the “Best Bar for Smokers” in the Tulsa Voice ‘Best of Tulsa’ guide. The owner said he was ’embarrassed’ by the nomination and knew it was time to finally consider a change when the venue won the category. Free The Night then conducted a survey of Mercury’s customers, which received over 1,000 responses. Of those responses, 81% said they would come the same amount or more if Mercury went smokefree. Even with those overwhelming stats, we couldn’t get the owners to agree to go smokefree for another 7 months! In January, 2017, Mercury Lounge finally went smokefree indoors and now say their only regret is that it took so long to make the decision.

What costs and resources are required?

Every bar we’ve helped go smokefree has had a different path, and some require more hands on work from FTN than others. It typically takes between 3-5 hours of direct contact with a bar owner before they decide to go smokefree, although some contact us (sometimes days, sometimes years) after receiving an outreach packet and say they are ready to go smokefree without any more discussion. Usually, multiple in-person meetings, phone calls, and Facebook messages happen between the bar owner and FTN campaign manager as bar staff comes up with questions or concerns.

We have a base of 38 musician partners who are critical in convincing many owners to change their policy. When a bar owner hears some of the local ‘big names’ who won’t play at a smoking venue and realize how much money they are losing out on, it can be very eye opening.

What’s the future for Free The Night and smokefree bars and clubs?

We have moved into smaller communities outside of Oklahoma City and Tulsa like Stillwater and Muskogee, to work with multiple venues in each to go smokefree. Our hope is that we can continue to infiltrate smaller towns across the state to work with bars.

How can I support smokefree bars in my area?

As a statewide campaign with only one ‘on the ground’ staff person, Free The Night relies heavily on the help from supporters of smokefree bars and clubs. There are several ways to get involved:

In-Person Opportunities

1. Individuals can help us by leaving our tab stickers on the back of receipts when they go to smoking bars. These ‘tab stickers’ say “I prefer smokefree bars! Visit FreeTheNightOK.org for more information”. We encourage supporters to leave these stickers on the back of their final tabs, with a personal note if they want, as a way to not only inform the bar owner that their customers want them to go smokefree, but to let them find out about our campaign. We’ve had a lot of success from these stickers as management contact us after seeing them. To get these stickers, individuals can email Kathleen@FreeTheNightOK.org

2. Supporters can sign up to be an advocate at FreeTheNightOK.org/advocate – the campaign uses volunteers for bar outreach, assistance at community events like music festivals, to attend Club By Storm bar recognition parties, and more!

Online Opportunities

3. People can ‘like’ and ‘follow’ FTN at Facebook.com/FreeTheNightOK and Twitter.com/FreeTheNightOK and share content to spread the message

4. After visiting a smokefree bar or club, people can go to the venue’s social media page or Yelp and write a positive review mentioning their smokefree status as a perk. Our website has a page to make this a simple process: FreeTheNightOK.org/SetTheNewStandard

Learn more

Contact Kathleen Thomas by email or through the OK In the Know Directory to ask about these efforts or the evolving partnership.

Have your own success story to share? Share it here in the Forum!


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