While youth advocacy is an important part of tobacco prevention initiatives, sometimes it takes an adult role model who knows precisely the dangers of tobacco use to really drive home the message. In 2013, through a grant from the State’s Comprehensive Cancer Control program, NCC hosted the Tobacco Free Teens Project, an in-person presentation with former teen tobacco user and oral cancer survivor Gruen Von Behrens. The project took Von Behrens to 11 rural Nevada middle and high schools to speak to more than 4,000 youth about the very real, not always distant future impacts of tobacco use. Von Behrens’ story of starting tobacco at 13 and being diagnosed with cancer at 17 was a compelling reality that changed the perceptions of tobacco use for many students.
Prior to Von Behrens’ presentation students completed a survey on perceptions and activities related to tobacco, then were asked to complete a post-presentation survey. The results showed that the story resonated with students, and their perceptions about tobacco and tobacco use changed. They had a better understanding of the dangers of its use.
And why are we bringing up the youth tour now, nearly a year later?
We recently met Carson City teen Spencer Flanders, named Western Region Youth Advocate of the Year by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Watch the video below for an overview on Spencer's successes. While we can’t say that the Von Behrens’ presentation inspired Spencer to action (the tour wasn’t able to visit his school), we believe that presentations like it can inspire other youth to action. And as research has shown and Spencer has demonstrated, youth have a keen ability to influence their peer groups, adults, and lawmakers.
And so we are working again with youth and tobacco, in partnership with the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, along with coalitions throughout the state, to host a Youth Tobacco Advocacy Summit this November in Reno. The idea to bring youth together for a statewide youth advocacy coalition comes from Spencer, and we hope that this one-day summit will help each group throughout the state to share ideas, work together, and join forces to make a greater statewide impact.
Through educational opportunities such as the Youth Tobacco Advocacy Summit and the Tobacco Free Teens tour, combined with community youth groups such as STOP, TATU, and Evolvement, we believe that Nevada’s teens can continue to build their influence and help to reduce tobacco use and exposure in our state. We’ll keep you posted on what’s happening with the Youth Tobacco Advocacy Summit and coalition, as well as other youth projects we are a part of.