An annual meeting to discuss tobacco control research — typically held on UNC's campus — was forced to relocate to Missouri due to travel bans implemented by other states in response to House Bill 2.
In past years, tobacco control researchers, attorneys, legal scholars and practitioners gathered for a day-and-a-half long meeting to share research findings related to tobacco control policy. The research was funded by a $7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, awarded to Kurt Ribisl, a professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Ribisl said the relocation was brought on by a variety of concerns.
“A couple of them started writing us,” Ribisl said. “A lot of them come from state governments, and they said ‘Look, there’s a travel ban. Our mayor or governor said we’re not allowed to travel to North Carolina.’”
Because of the travel bans, out of the 20 city and state employees invited to the meeting, eight could not come — including one of the meeting's keynote speakers.
Other attendees took issue with the original UNC location because of the state’s political climate, which eventually forced the team to change the meeting location to a different state.
Ashley Feld, project director for the grant, said she understands why other states and municipalities have placed travel bans to put pressure on North Carolina legislators.
"I think the whole thing reflects poorly on the state of North Carolina, therefore the University and us, even though we aren’t really a part of it," she said.
Feld said moving the conference not only cost ASPiRE, the group hosting it — but it also cost approximately $15,000 in lost revenue for local hotels, vendors and other businesses.
Mark Meaney, a staff attorney for the Public Health Law Center, said the organizers thought moving the meeting to another state was not only a practical, but a moral choice.
“There’s such a direct correlation between discrimination and public health,” he said. “As public health professionals, we felt like it was important to consider that as we made the decision of changing the venue of our meeting.”
The meeting will now take place in late May in St. Louis, Missouri, due to a partnership with Washington University in St. Louis.
While Ribisl said he is upset about the economic impact these travel bans had on the meeting, he is also disappointed in losing out on the local benefits of the meeting.
He said many of his students and others in the School of Global Health usually get to attend this annual event, but this year they will have to miss out.
“It’s a disappointment that we can’t showcase UNC-Chapel Hill as part of this meeting,” Ribisl said.
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