Student News

Empowering youth in the fight against tobacco: World No Tobacco Day 2024

#iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board members and Governor Andy Beshear standing in front of the state capitol building in Frankfort
#iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board members and Doctor Stephen Stack in an interior room
#iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board in front of the Kentucky State Capitol Building

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 31, 2024) — On this World No Tobacco Day, the importance of educating and engaging youth in tobacco use prevention cannot be overstated. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 37 million youths aged 13–15 use tobacco globally, with children surpassing adults in e-cigarette usage in all regions. This year's theme, "Protecting children from tobacco industry interference," emphasizes the vital role young people play in promoting healthier lifestyles and positive community change.

Griffin Nemeth, a student at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy and coordinator for the #iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board, exemplifies the significant impact young people and pharmacists can have in this public health mission.

Nemeth's involvement in tobacco prevention began his sophomore year of undergraduate studies through his role as a college facilitator with #iCANendthetrend, a youth e-cigarette prevention and empowerment initiative. Project Director Melinda Ickes, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Kentucky College of Education, worked collaboratively with college students to bring a near peer prevention approach to decrease youth tobacco initiation, support those who are already dependent and ensure student voices are at the forefront of prevention and policy advocacy.

Since 2019, the team has reached more than 20,000 Kentucky youth, of which Nemeth has been an integral part. Today, Nemeth leads the #iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board, a group of 10 high school advocates from across Kentucky, fostering a generation of changemakers dedicated to educating peers, community members and policymakers about the negative health outcomes of vaping and tobacco use.

“I am thrilled to see young people engage in something they traditionally haven't been involved in, especially in the policy sphere,” said Nemeth. “Witnessing our Youth Advisory Board advocate for their communities and interacting with local leadership is immensely rewarding."

A key element of Nemeth's work is the comprehensive yearlong training program he helps coordinate for younger Kentuckians. Every summer, new members of the Youth Advisory Board gather at UK for an in-person training session, followed by bimonthly virtual meetings throughout the year. This training includes online modules, skill-building opportunities and sessions led by near peers who are part of #iCANendthetrend. Each year, the Youth Advisory Board selects a project to work collaboratively on throughout the year to equip them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to effectively support their goals.

The #iCANendthetrend program's efforts have earned significant recognition. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids named the board the 2024 Group Advocates of the Year, highlighting the critical contributions of youth in tobacco prevention and the necessity for ongoing support.

Nemeth and the #iCANendthetrend team have also supported the Tobacco 21 campaign and enforcement efforts, which aim to raise the legal age for tobacco purchases to 21. Their advocacy at the capitol, including meetings with Gov. Andy Beshear and Steven Stack, M.D., Kentucky Commissioner for the Department of Public Health, emphasized the importance of youth voices in legislative processes.

Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to support tobacco cessation efforts. With most people in the U.S. living within five miles of a pharmacy, trained pharmacists can bridge the gap in treatment resources, particularly in rural areas.

"Even if patients are unsure they want to begin treatment, pharmacists can ask, advise and refer, which can make a significant difference for a patient who might otherwise continue to smoke for years until a severe health condition develops,” Nemeth said. “Pharmacists can play a crucial role in early intervention.”

As Nemeth advances in his pharmacy studies, he remains committed to advocacy. He envisions a future where his role as a pharmacist intersects with his passion for public health. "There's a significant health disparity in tobacco prevention and use, especially in Kentucky. Learning about the science and treatment in pharmacy school has further prepared me as an advocate," Nemeth explained.

For those looking to reduce or quit tobacco use, pharmacists offer invaluable support. Many pharmacies provide resources and counseling for smoking cessation, including nicotine replacement therapies and other medications to manage withdrawal symptoms. Pharmacists can also offer personalized advice and support, making it easier for individuals to navigate their cessation journey.

World No Tobacco Day 2024 is a call to action for health care providers, communities and individuals to support tobacco prevention and cessation efforts. By combining the power of youth advocacy, the accessibility of pharmacists and the collaboration of healthcare providers, educators, policymakers and community leaders, Kentucky can move towards a tobacco-free future. This comprehensive approach, which includes prevention, education, policy advocacy and accessible treatment resources, is essential for ensuring healthier lives for generations to come.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.