UK Students and Faculty Team Up with High Schoolers to Advocate For Tobacco-Free Communities

Photo of student participants in tobacco-free advocacy training

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 19, 2018) - High school and middle school students in Perry County, Adair County and Casey County are now equipped with the tools to enact change in their hometowns. Thanks to a partnership between Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program and UK's Bridging Research Efforts and Advocacy Toward Healthy Environments (BREATHE), more than 80 students learned how to advocate for smoke- and tobacco-free policies in their communities.

YOUth Make a Difference, now in its second year, joins health policy professionals  and ambassadors from UK's Tobacco-Free Take Action!  with local students who want to advocate for change in their schools and communities. Last year, 80% of the student participants worked to convince school officials, local businesses, community agencies or government officials to address tobacco use. Based on that success, the program was able to secure additional funding to expand to three counties.

The training sessions help prepare students to tackle the ongoing problems tobacco causes in their schools/counties and how to work with community leaders to enact policies to combat tobacco use. Interactive sessions included information on:

  • The prevalence and impact of tobacco use
  • Tobacco policies that can prevent and decrease tobacco use
  • How local and state-level advocacy can impact communities
  • Basic advocacy skills and techniques to create community change
  • Empowering youth to be change agents in their communities

"My favorite aspect of these trainings is training our future doctors, teachers, and policy workers on the importance of health advocacy," said UK Tobacco-Free ambassador Sierrah Miley. "It allows me to feel as if I am helping our future step in the right direction one training at a time. It’s reassuring to know we have the power to change, and make our world a better place, which ultimately starts with youth. If youth are not reminded of the power they hold, if they are not given the tools of education and empowerment of advocacy, we cannot expect change!"

The ambassadors also presented on Juul products, a type of e-cigarette, and discussed with students how they can correct misconceptions about vaping and advocate for these devices to be included in smoke- and tobacco-free policies, especially in schools.

"Empowering youth to make a difference in their communities is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had the opportunity to be a part of," said Melinda Ickes, director of Tobacco-Free Take Action! and associate professor of kinesiology and health promotion in the UK College of Education. "We hope to continue to build capacity for youth advocacy and empowerment efforts across the state."


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